The EU says another step has been made to increase access to cancer prevention, early detection, treatment and care.
Ahead of World Cancer Day and a year after the publication of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Commission is launching a series of new initiatives, announced at the event “Ensuring Equal Access for All: Cancer in Women – Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.” This event focused on gender inequalities and specific measures to address cancer in women. It was the first of an annual series of events, focusing on how to increase equal access for all to cancer prevention and care.
On average cancer affects men slightly more than women in Europe, with 54% of new cases and 56% of deaths. However, female breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer (over 355,000 women in the EU in 2020). There are also considerable inequalities within and between EU Member States and between population groups in the areas of early detection, diagnosis, treatment and the quality of patient care. This is particularly striking with regard to estimated cervical cancer incidence rates (varying five-fold) and mortality rates (varying eight-fold in 2020 across the EU). These wide variations can be explained by differences in prevalence of the human papilloma virus (HPV), and vaccination and cervical cancer screening policies in the EU countries. Reducing inequalities across the entire disease pathway is the overarching goal of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.
The Commission is launching four new EU Cancer Plan actions to support Member States in addressing inequalities, improving screening and vaccination against HPV, and supporting persons who have experienced cancer:
The Cancer Inequalities Registry will identify trends and disparities between Member States and regions. It also sheds light on inequalities in cancer prevention and care due to gender, educational attainment and income level, as well as disparities between urban and rural areas. The registry will guide investment and interventions at EU, national and regional level.
A cancer screening call for evidence will be used to update the 2003 Council Recommendation on screening. This is part of the Cancer Plan’s target to ensure that 90% of the EU population who qualify for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings, are offered it by 2025.
A Joint Action on HPV vaccination will support Member States to increase public understanding and awareness of HPV and promote vaccination uptake. This action will contribute to a key target of the Cancer Plan: to eliminate cervical cancer by vaccinating against HPV at least 90% of the EU target population of girls, and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030.
The EU Network of Youth Cancer Survivors will strengthen long-term follow-up in cancer care plans at national and regional level. It will also connect young persons with a history of cancer and their families as well as informal and formal carers.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said: “We made the fight against cancer a priority of this Commission when we launched Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Our goal is that everyone in our European Union should get the cancer treatment they need. We know that this fight suffered a setback due to the pandemic, with an estimated one million cases that could be undiagnosed right now. Cancer is a personal story for all of us. And that is why we will work on prevention, early diagnosis, and equal access to care to win this fight.”
Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, added: “Cancer concerns us all and the fight against it remains a priority. One year after we have put the Cancer Plan in motion, today we are making important steps together towards ensuring equal access for all to cancer prevention and care. Inequalities have no place in a Europe built on solidarity. National governments and public health authorities cannot turn the tide against cancer alone. It is only through full cooperation and strong commitment from everybody that we will help improve the lives of our citizens and reduce the suffering of many. Prevention and diagnosis are at the heart of this common journey which is only at the beginning.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “One year after its launch, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is making a difference. This year, at our World Cancer Day event we will focus on tackling inequalities in cancer in women, on the need for optimal European cooperation and treatment and on the specific actions in the Plan to invest in prevention. And importantly, we will ensure that the voices of those whose lives have been touched by cancer will be heard. In light of the impact of COVID-19 on screening, treatment and care, addressing this major public health challenge is today more urgent than ever before. We need to close the gaps and ensure equal access to all. Our plan against cancer, is Europe’s roadmap of action to make a difference to the lives of all cancer patients and their loved ones. This Plan concerns us all!”
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is a key pillar of the European Health Union announced by President von der Leyen in her State of the Union in September 2020, calling for a more secure, resilient and better-prepared European Union. Launched in 2021, the Cancer Plan sets out a new EU approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care through an integrated, health-in-all-policies and multi-stakeholder approach. It proposes 10 flagships and multiple actions to tackle the entire disease pathway, from prevention to quality of life of cancer patients and survivors, focusing on actions where the EU can add the most value.
The EU4Health programme and other funding programmes have earmarked a total of €4 billion for actions addressing cancer. In 2021, two waves of calls under the EU4Health programme were launched, leading to 16 new major initiatives. The next Work Programme for 2022 was recently adopted and included again a significant number of actions addressing cancer, this time with a strong focus on prevention and diagnosis.
The Cancer Plan continues to work in tandem with the Horizon Europe Mission on Cancer, ensuring coherence between ambitious research goals and realistic policy aims.