How does the European Union set out to battle cancer?

Published on 24 February 2020 Read 25 min

Even though only 9 % of the world population lives in Europe, almost 25% of cancers are diagnosed in Europe. Indeed, the disease is the second leading cause of death in the EU. At the national level, the condition have a major impact on health and social systems. There is an urgent need to take measures to make them more effective, accessible and efficient. To answer this need, the European Commission, in collaboration with the MEP’s Against Cancer Interest Group, has launched a Europe-wide public consultation on its new European Cancer Plan. The initiative was announced on World Cancer Day on February 4th, 2020. Alcimed comes back on this launching conference which presented the objectives of this ambitious action plan. Let’s dive right into it!

Europe’s call to action to fight cancer

The event, held at the European Parliament in Brussels, was hosted by Veronique Trillet-Lenoir and Lucas Fourlas, co-chairs of the MEP’s Against Cancer Interest Group. They launched the event with a chilling reminder that cancer kills more than one million of our fellow European citizens every year, which represents a major burden for patients and their families. However, they also claimed that “cancer is not unbeatable” and that progress can be made by strengthening research and awareness-raising efforts.

This view was also shared by the President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who saw the event as Europe embarking on a common path, on which much remains to be done but foundations already exist. Although the fight against cancer has made great progress in recent years, she pointed out the unequal benefits coming from the last European Action Plan launched 30 years ago.

“United we stand, divided we fall”

This was the famous motto Loucas Fourlas took and made his own during his speech, highlighting the importance of a common commitment, across partisan and social divisions. The cancer battle must be led on a united front, where “no cancer patient stands alone”. This unity must hasten the reduction of the major inequalities that persist in Europe, as Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Public Health and Food Safety, pointed out, where “a woman with cervical cancer in Romania is 16 times more likely to die than a woman with the same cancer in Italy”.

The Europe Beating Cancer Plan and the priorities going forward

The EU-wide plan will now be discussed in a group ‘as inclusive as possible’, including political leaders, cancer survivors, NGO’s and health professionals. It is based on four key priorities:

– Prevention: “Because this is the best cure we have”, as highlighted by Ursula von der Leyen. Currently, 30 to 40% of cancer cases are preventable but only 3% of the budget is dedicated to prevention. Prevention covers a very broad field, from smoking prevention to vaccination coverage, pollution control and access to healthy and affordable food. It means that a lot remains to be done!

– Diagnosis: Currently, as mentioned by Stella Kyriakides, “in one Member State, 62% of women between 50 and 69 years old had a mammography within the last 2 years, while this figure is only 0.2% in another Member State.”  While today, the disparities are immense, tomorrow, every European should be able to benefit from the earliest possible diagnosis.

– Treatment and technology: Research to develop new pharmaceutical treatments and new technological tools is obviously crucial. For research to move forward effectively, data sharing is key, and we have to do it better. Within the data we already have lies an incredible amount of missed opportunities, unknown improvements, potential corrections of false hypothesis – shortly, immense amounts of yet to be uncovered evidence. With this in mind, Kyriakides announced the creation of an Open Health Data Space, a cloud designed to facilitate access to shared data for scientists.

– Quality of life: As expressed by Stiliyan Petrov, former professional football player and Victor Girbu, lawyer, the fight against cancer is not just about curing it. It’s a fight against discrimination in access to loans, mortgages and health insurance, against marginalization and even against exclusion. We have to remember that this must also be our priority.

With this plan to fight cancer, and all its repercussions, the European Union is tackling inequalities and promoting unity. Uniting around this cause, which concerns us all in one way or another, will enable new solutions to emerge, particularly through the sharing of information and the pooling of efforts. Throughout the years, Alcimed has been actively involved in projects focused on improving the patient experience, through patient pathway programs, investigating disruptive technologies for cancer detection, treatment and follow-up. We are very excited to see this joint effort and ambitious plan in the region, that we will follow with great interest!


About the author

Victor, Consultant, Alcimed Healthcare Brussels Office


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