Guest article: Dr. Wendy Yared, Association of European Cancer Leagues

The latest estimates on the global burden of cancer from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) are startling: the annual newly diagnosed cancer cases (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) worldwide is projected to increase by 55% over the next 20 years.  The stakes for Europe could not be higher as it is projected to remain the continent with the most cancer patients per capita with 4.8 million new cases annually by 2040.  Needless to say, there is no time to lose in accelerating action to control and diminish the rising tides of cancer in Europe.

With this in mind, the recent adoption of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is greatly welcomed as a much-needed framework for boosting cancer control throughout Europe.  In particular, the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) welcomes the strong focus and commitment to cancer prevention within the Beating Cancer Plan.

Given the number of shared risk factors between cancer and other major non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and the opportunity that the Beating Cancer Plan presents for promoting health by addressing wider determinants of health, the Beating Cancer Plan is also a chance to achieve progress in preventing other chronic conditions.

The Plan supports maximising the potential of digitalisation, linking actions to the European Health Data Space (EHDS), to be proposed later this year.  For the EHDS to effectively support the Plan and cancer and NCD control, it would have to effectively address basic challenges in the area of data.  These include ensuring the interoperability of data within and across borders.  Data is useless if they are isolated.   Also, since the GDPR has come into play, researchers have faced blocks due to different interpretations of the GDPR.  Structured and formal guidance should be provided.  Inequality also needs to be addressed, linked to infrastructure, but also to data literacy in all segments of the population, from professionals to patients.  Patients must also be assured that they have access and control over their data.  This calls for uniform and robust regulations and systems to be in place.  Data should never be sold to third parties for profit or illicit use.  Existing tools, such as blockchain technology, should be explored as a means to provide confidentiality.

While the Plan mentions expensive and complex solutions such as Artificial Intelligence and supercomputing which are relevant for rapid and more accurate diagnosis and treatment of diseases, emphasis should also be made on more accessible technologies such as mobile applications.  The WASABY app is a mobile application developed by ECL to inform school-age children of the relevant messages of the European Code against Cancer. The app has been designed to be integrated into the health education programmes of cancer leagues, thereby providing greater potential for sustainability, a key concern around mHealth solutions in general.

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