On 4 February, World Cancer Day, the European Commission presented its ambitions for a European plan to beat cancer. The voting chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels was packed and buzzing for the event. Patient groups, EU citizens, politicians, EU member state representatives, parliament officials, nurses, clinicians filled the room.
The president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen introduced the event. She shared the profoundly moving story of losing her 11-year old sister to cancer. My little sister's death has changed my life. I guess it is also because of her death that I decided to study medicine and become a medical doctor. And it is because of her, and my mother, and one of my brothers, that I care so much about fighting cancer. This is personal. It is personal for me.”
Her speech was followed by Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, a breast cancer survivor, and former director of Europa Donna. Of course, this cancer plan for her too is personal and important.
It is rare for a health topic at European level to have such high-level commitment from the President of the Commission – this plan has much political will and energy behind it. The Commission also chose to launch their plan in the European Parliament jointly with the MEPs Against Cancer (MAC) group to show that they want this to be a European initiative that works across EU institutions and across EU member states too.Von der Leyen announced she found it “unacceptable” that there are still “huge inequalities” in screening procedures across EU member states, highlighting the example that a woman in Romania is sixteen times more likely to die of cervical cancer than her counterpart in Italy. MEPs to speak at the event were Mairead McGuinness (EPP, Ireland), vice president of the European Parliament, and the two chairs of the MAC group, MEPs Prof. Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (RE, France) and Mr. Loucas Fourlas (EPP, Cyprus).
How to beat cancer?
The Commission intends to design the plan to cover the entire cycle of the disease starting from prevention and early diagnosis to treatment and quality of life of patients and survivors, and the role of research and innovation.
Commissioner Stella Kyriakides emphasised the importance of early detection and diagnosis of cancer, saying that this will be one of her main priorities. Other preventative measures will include ensuring that cancer is addressed as a cross-cutting issue across all policy areas, which will include access to healthy diets and vaccinations (HPV) and reduction of environmental risk factors and exposure to carcinogenic chemicals.
The cancer plan will also complement the EU’s research and innovation mission on cancer. The Health Commissioner has been tasked with establishing a European open health data space where data can be shared with scientists and researchers, allowing for greater insights and less biased results. The Commission will be investing in an improved health data infrastructure in order to facilitate the link between research and care.
There will also be a focus on quality of life of cancer survivors. Commissioner Kyriakides stated during her speech “We know that survivors often struggle with health insurance, mortgages or bank loans – things that many take for granted. The result is more silence, more secrecy and more marginalisation. We have to be prepared to fight social inequalities, stigma and discrimination against survivors – wherever we find it. With this goal in mind, the Beating Cancer Plan will look at best practices linked to social protection, psychological support, professional re-integration.”
A public consultation by European citizens shall be placed at the centre of this plan. With this consultation, the European Commission invites all interested individuals or organisations to share their views and experiences to feed into a European cancer plan putting European citizens at the centre.
What does this mean for the EAU?
First and foremost, the launch of the consultation shows that the Commission has been listening to the EAU’s input on early detection of prostate cancer! This is a huge success for our collective effort in pushing for European Commission guidelines on early detection of prostate cancer in order to support EU member states in their national cancer plans. Prostate cancer is included in the consultation as a potential new cancer to be addressed at European level.
We need your support!
We need as many clinicians, patients, family members and concerned EU citizens to fill this consultation in! We need the European Commission to hear from us all that prostate cancer is something that EU citizens care about, and want EU action on.
You can help by filling out the consultation at the following website before 7 May 2020:
The questionnaire is extensive, but you are not obliged to complete the full survey. The key questions are:
- Question 3: please tick that you want to see more EU support for early detection and screening, Then please chose ‘extension of screening to other cancer types’, then type prostate cancer.
- Question 6: “Do you think the EU should extend recommendations for screening of other types of cancer, beyond breast, cervical and colorectal cancer?” Please tick ‘yes’, then choose prostate cancer. In the free space, you may want to say that the preferred language of the EU recommendations would be ‘early detection of prostate cancer screening for the well-informed man’.
The opportunity to contribute to a European cancer action plan does not happen every day or even every decade. President Von der Leyen reminded us that the last European action plan against cancer dates back 30 years. If we want the European Commission to support robust early detection plans for prostate cancer and to stop the unnecessary suffering and death caused by ‘too late’ diagnosis of prostate cancer, we must act collectively, now!
The end result will be a communication on a European cancer plan from the European Commission planned for fourth quarter 2020.