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By Mariann Skar, Secretary-General, Eurocare

Europe's Beating Cancer Plan is a main priority in health at EU level and a key pillar of a strong European Health Union. It will be supported by actions spanning across policy areas from employment, education, social policy, and equality, through marketing, agriculture, energy, the environment, and climate, to transport, cohesion policy, and taxation.

 

Four key action areas

The Cancer Plan is structured around four key action areas with 10 flagship initiatives and multiple supporting actions. It will be implemented using the whole range of Commission funding instruments, with a total of €4 billion being earmarked for actions addressing cancer, including from the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe, and the Digital Europe programme.

 

Prevention through actions addressing key risk factors such as tobacco (with the aim to ensure that less than 5% of the population uses tobacco by 2040), harmful alcohol consumption, environmental pollution, and hazardous substances. Additionally, a ‘HealthyLifestyle4All' campaign will promote healthy diets and physical activity. To prevent cancers caused by infections, the Cancer Plan's objective is to vaccinate at least 90% of the EU target population of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030.

 

Early detection of cancer by improving access, quality and diagnostics and support Member States ensuring that 90% of the EU population who qualify for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings are offered screening by 2025. To support achieving this, a new EU-supported Cancer Screening Scheme will be put forward.

 

Diagnosis and treatment through actions to ensure better integrated and comprehensive cancer care and addressing unequal access to quality care and medicines. By 2030, 90% of eligible patients should have access to National Comprehensive Cancer Centres linked through a new EU Network. In addition, a new ‘Cancer Diagnostic and Treatment for All' initiative will be launched by the end of 2021 to help improve access to innovative cancer diagnosis and treatments and a European Initiative to Understand Cancer (UNCAN.eu) will help identify individuals at high risk from common cancers.

 

Improve quality of life of cancer patients and survivors, including rehabilitation, potential tumour recurrence, metastatic disease, and measures to support social integration and re-integration in the workplace. A ‘Better Life for Cancer Patients Initiative' will be launched, focusing on follow-up care.

 

In addition, to support new technologies, research and innovation, a new Knowledge Centre on Cancer will be launched to help coordinate scientific and technical cancer-related initiatives at EU level. A European Cancer Imaging Initiative will be set up to support the development of new computer-aided tools to improve personalised medicine and innovative solutions.

 

A particular focus will be paid to children, through the launch of the ‘Helping Children with Cancer Initiative' to ensure that children have access to rapid and optimal detection, diagnosis, treatment and care. Finally, to identify trends, disparities and inequalities between Member States and regions, a Cancer Inequalities Registry will be established in 2021.

In 2020, 2.7 million people in the European Union were diagnosed with the disease, and another 1.3 million people lost their lives to it. Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in EU countries after cardiovascular diseases.

 

Evidence shows that 40% of cancers are preventable if we implement what we know already. However, only 3% of health budgets is being currently spent on health promotion and disease prevention. Therefore, the scope for action is immense.

 

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan emphasizes alcohol-related harm is a major public health concern in the EU and that cancer was the leading cause of alcohol-attributable deaths with a share of 29%, followed by liver cirrhosis (20%), cardiovascular diseases (19%) and injuries (18%)[1]. The target is to achieve a relative reduction of at least 10% in the harmful use of alcohol by 2025.

 

Effective public health prevention as listed below can reduce the social and economic losses caused by harmful use of alcohol.

  • Support to Member States and stakeholders for the implementation of best practice interventions and capacity building activities.

  • The Commission will review the EU legislation relating to the taxation of alcohol and on cross border purchases of alcohol by private individuals.

  • To reduce the exposure of young people to marketing of alcoholic beverages, the Commission will closely work with Member States to reduce online marketing and advertising of these products.

  • The Commission will also review its promotion policy on alcoholic beverages in the EU promotion programme for agricultural products.

  • Mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration on alcoholic beverage labels before the end of 2022

  • The inclusion of health warnings on the labels of alcoholic beverages will be proposed before the end of 2023.

  • Support will be provided to Member States in the implementation of evidence-based brief interventions on alcohol in primary health care, workplace and social services.
     

In the coming years we expect the population to better recognise that drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing cancer in the oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast. Even moderate alcohol intake has been shown to increase the risk of developing breast cancer.[2]

 

The contribution of alcohol to a range of cancers needs to be better recognized. There needs to be better public information, more awareness among health professionals and effective public health measures to highlight the link and promote action to reduce avoidable illnesses and deaths.

 

Awareness concerning the link between alcohol and cancer is of crucial importance for effective prevention efforts.

[1] For the EU Member States, UK, Norway, and Switzerland:

https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/386577/fs-alcohol-eng.pdf

[2] World Health Organisation, 2018. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/274603/9789241565639-eng.pdf?ua=1