Turning the tide: Europe’s need to intensify its fight against cancer

Guest article by Sara Bertucci, Policy Officer, Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) @cancerleagues 

Beating cancer has been a top public health priority for the current legislative cycle. Despite notable progress since the inception of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (EBCP) in 2021, recent estimates published by the European Commission indicate the rising number of people diagnosed with and dying from cancer in the region 

This underscores the need for persistent, united action. In view of the upcoming European elections, the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) emphasises the importance of keeping health and cancer central concerns on top of the political agenda. Renewed efforts in Europe’s fight against cancer should not be seen as a disease-specific endeavour. They are vital to create a healthier Europe and advance towards a genuine European Health Union. 

A health-first approach to prevent cancer and ensure a healthy Europe 

A healthy environment for European citizens will not occur without the decisive support of European decision makers. This calls for addressing the crucial issue of commercial determinants of health through a health-centric approach across all economic sectors and policies, especially in climate, energy, environment, agriculture, transport, and trade. 

Such an approach yields significant benefits beyond cancer control, offering advantages for all Europeans and contributing to substantial health and economic gains across various diseases and sectors. 

Realising health equity in cancer control 

Health equity should be another paramount goal for the next mandate. In cancer, EU support is direly needed to level the playing field and erase existing gaps in cancer control across EU Member States (MSs). It is crucial to harness the knowledge from the European Cancer Inequalities Registry to rectify disparities in cancer prevention, care and survivorship. EU financial and technical support to MSs is key to realise this, especially as Europe explores the expansion of organised cancer screening programs. 

In the ever-expanding landscape of innovative cancer treatments, affordability and pricing transparency are pressing concerns. ECL urges EU policymakers to support the establishment of an obligation for MSs to disclose the actual prices of medicines, and of a unified mechanism for collective procurement and pricing negotiation of effective cancer treatments. This approach would harness the market influence of 500 million EU citizens, reducing costs, and contribute to addressing inequalities.  

Support and empower those touched by cancer 

The EU should commit to assisting MSs in guaranteeing that cancer patients and survivors have access to the highest quality care across the block. Integrated survivorship care models, including patient-centred counselling and secure digital tools, should be given priority. 

Individuals affected by cancer often face persistent challenges that extend beyond their physical health. EU policymakers are well-equipped to address these challenges. The EU must take more substantial measures to ensure that MSs implement legal provisions to alleviate the challenges faced by cancer survivors accessing insurance and financial products. Protecting the employment rights of cancer patients, survivors, and their caregivers is also of paramount importance. Facilitating job retention and reintegration should be actively promoted and monitored through the European Semester framework. 

EU leading research and striving for implementation 

EU leadership in innovative research is essential in health and cancer. ECL urges sustained investment in international collaborations, focusing on understanding carcinogenesis, advancing secondary prevention, encouraging investigator-driven research in areas with unmet medical needs, fostering open science for clinical trial results, and enhancing funding for survivorship research.  

For data, innovation, and initiatives to truly matter, they must reach every citizen. ECL advocates for the creation of an Expert Network on National Cancer Control Programmes (NCCP), to support the implementation of the updated European Guide for Quality NCCP in all Member States. 

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA. 

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