Tribute to Prof. Umberto Veronesi: Writing the History over Breast Cancer Management for 50 years (George Asimakopoulos)

Tribute to Prof. Umberto Veronesi: Writing the History over Breast Cancer Management for 50 years

This year (2015) Prof Umberto Veronesi became 90 years old. Whoever had the honor and the privilege to work with him a big portion of his professional life, like myself, is in title to write a few words about the professional life, about the research and the achievements of this great man. With pleasure I am doing this today for my Turkish friends and colleagues of SENATURK. 

Thanks to the work of Umberto Veronesi, each year 300.000 women with breast cancer can receive curative surgery that preserves their breast. If we go back in the years, in 1969, the World Health Organization in Geneva convened a meeting of investigators to evaluate the methods of diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Professor Umberto Veronesi was among the 15 experts invited. He presented a proposal for randomized trial to compare the traditional mutilating procedure (mastectomy) with a new conservative approach consisting of wide resection (which he was later to define as Quadrantectomy), followed by radiotherapy. The proposal stimulated intense discussion, at the end of which it was overwhelmingly accepted. 

Umberto Veronesi started a randomized study to 1973 and the accrual of patients went on regularly until December 1980. The scientific community was for the first time informed about the purpose of the trial and interim report was published in 1977 in the Journal “Cancer”. The first results of the trial have been published on 1 July 1981 in the New England Journal of Medicine. These showed very clearly that there was no difference between the two groups of patients as regards local recurrences and survival. The title of the famous scientific paper published in 1991 was as follows “Comparing radical mastectomy with quadrantectomy, axillary dissection, and radiotherapy in patients with small cancers of the breast”. 

Umberto Veronesi also tried in Europe the sentinel node biopsy for breast cancer, which avoids long-term problems with lymphoedema and preserves the patient’s arm function. During all these years Prof. Veronesi never stopped writing scientific papers, books of surgery, directions for the women how to prevent breast cancer with a very typical example of the foundation of EUROPA DONNA in Milan Italy and through these all over Europe with a big success. In the same time he founded a number of scientific groups and think-tanks in order to promote research and teaching in Oncology. I believe that his big achievement in teaching is the foundation of European School of Oncology (ESO) in Milan, currently the worldwide International teaching institution. Improving oncology knowledge in major European language as Spanish and Portuguese, French, German, Italian and of course English. ESO was established in 1982 on the initiative of Umberto Veronesi and with the key support of Franco Cavalli, Louis Denis, Bob Pinedo, Michael Peckham and Alberto Costa as director, with the aim to promote further and deeper the knowledge of oncology with main emphasis on graduate training catering to various levels of knowledge and education in Europe. While doing so, ESO has entered a series of co-operations and associations with various scientific societies which have devoted themselves to similar aims. While embarking upon its third decade of existence, ESO intends to reorient itself and adapt to the various educational and scientific needs of present day Europe. 

In the field of conferences, Umberto Veronesi founded the “Milan Breast” which is a conference which takes place every 2 years in Milan Italy and his mission is from its very beginning to provide state-of-the-art information on breast cancer research. The conference aims to achieve a balance of clinical, translational, and basic research, providing a forum for interaction, communication, and education for a broad spectrum of health professionals, researchers, and those with special interest in breast cancer. The program of each “Milan Breast” has developed around a fundamental concept: breast cancer is not a single disease. Specific biological processes and distinct gene pathways are associated with prognosis and sensitivity to chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted agents in different subtypes of breast cancers. 

In the year 2000, Prof. Veronesi became Minister of Health of the Italian Republic. He immediately organized an international conference with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rome Italy with the title “The fight against cancer in the emerging world” 25-26 January 2001 with a big success. During this conference, all of us who had the honor to participate were to explain to the colleagues of the other countries the Veronesi motto: “the only reasonable and fast solution is to detect the disease early, when it is still curable”. 

In the year 2003, Prof. Veronesi realizes another of his big dreams, the Umberto Veronesi Foundation in order to sustain scientific research through scholarships for doctors, physicians and projects of the highest levels. 

I would like to close this sort tribute to my teacher with the initiative of a few good friends, ex students, either of the Istituto Dei Tumori or the European Institute of Oncology, both in Milano in the last 35 years, we established together the Umberto Veronesi Alumni Club, which is a meeting point for friends, physicians who have participated in the professional training, updating or educational courses organized or directed by Umberto Veronesi. My colleagues in the scientific committee of the club invited me to be the President and Dr Gabriel Farante to be the Secretary General. The whole project was presented in a meeting in Milano December 2014 during the Green Oasis Oncology Center, a project of HGC (Health and General Consulting) which is part of the Global War against cancer, the latest project of Prof. Veronesi and associates against the enemy called “CANCER”. 

Prof. Umberto Veronesi nowadays is working of “rethinking TNM classification” and on the Decalogue of the rights of the cancer patients. 

George Asimakopoulos, MD 
President; South East Europe Chapter EURAMA