Europe mobilises to beat cancer

Through two initiatives by the EU and WHO/Europe, cancer is being tackled with renewed emphasis and resources even in the midst of the pandemic, emphasising innovation, prevention, palliative care and the desire to reduce inequities.
25 February 2021

World Cancer Day saw the launch of two promising initiatives to fight cancer in Europe: WHO’s United Against Cancer campaign and the EU Cancer Beating Plan.

There has been undeniable progress in cancer care across Europe in recent decades, with advances made in improving early diagnosis, access to precision medicine and treatment therapies, driven by national cancer control plans, most recently in Poland. Nevertheless, the regional burden remains high with nearly two million cancer-related deaths each year in Europe and 13,100 people are diagnosed with cancer in the WHO European Region each day.

WHO/Europe encompasses all European countries as well as the Russian Federation and Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Across this region there are considerable variations between and within countries in terms of cancer incidence and survival rates. For instance, the risk of developing cancer is three times higher in northern European nations than in Central Asia, but the chance of being cured from cancer is 2.5 times higher.

WHO aims to eliminate cancer as a life-threatening disease in Europe

Against this backdrop, the WHO Regional Office for Europe launched United Action Against Cancer, a pan-European cancer initiative seeking to mobilise cooperation at government as well as grassroots levels by reinforcing political leadership and engaging young people and civil society. To this end and for the first time, WHO/Europe has nominated a “Cancer Ambassador” –Aron Anderson, a cancer survivor and motivational speaker – “to inspire action and change behaviours related to cancer risk factors”. 

“Having our own Cancer Ambassador, someone who will be a powerful role model to the millions of young people in our Region, is a very important tool in our ongoing efforts to improve the health of the people we serve. I’m sure he will inspire many around us to make the right choices and adopt a positive and can-do mindset.”
–    Nino Berdzuli, Director of the Division of Country Health Programmes at WHO/Europe

The United Action Against Cancer campaign aims to enact change in the following areas:

  • Reduce the inequalities that exist in accessing quality cancer services within and among countries by placing people at the centre of care policies.
  • Develop and implement policies promoting health choices that can reduce cancer risks.
  • Increase HPV and hepatitis B vaccinations.
  • Improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of diagnosis and treatment, as well as the affordability of medicines and the access to pain relief and supportive care.
  • Place more emphasis on prevention, early detection and palliative care, which remain underdeveloped in relation to treatment.
  • Ensure that policies are evidence-based not driven by commercial interests.

This pan-European cancer initiative will provide decision-makers with WHO’s “signature solutions”, a set of cost effective, evidence-based policies and measures whose implementation is supported by technical guidance and tools.

“The impact of the [COVID-19] pandemic on cancer in the [European] Regions is nothing short of catastrophic. It has made us realize the actual human cost of neglecting a non-communicable disease such as cancer. This [initiative] is our wake-up call, from grassroots to governments, to tackle cancer together.”
–    Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe in his statement “Catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on cancer care”

A new EU approach to prevention, treatment and care

On the eve of World Cancer Day, the European Commission presented Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, a set of actions aimed at placing cancer control at the heart of a more equal and interconnected approach to health care. The goal is to slow or reverse a projected 21% rise in new cancer cases and a nearly 30% increase in cancer mortality over the next 20 years.

The Cancer Plan mobilises research and resources as well as new technologies and innovation to tackle all aspects of cancer care, focusing on four key action areas: prevention, treatment, and quality of life of patients and survivors. It will be backed by €4 billion in funding.

“We present today an anthropocentric Plan for cancer that addresses all angles: prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. This Plan is unique because it is based on a ‘health in all policies' approach, pooling all strings together under a common goal, beating cancer.”
–    Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission

The Plan is not intended to become legislation but rather aims to "support, coordinate and complement Member States’ efforts to reduce the suffering caused by cancer." It intersects with a number of initiatives such as the European Health Data Space or the EU Tobacco Products Directive to achieve its stated goals in terms of driving change through research and data, promoting healthy behaviour and improving health literacy. 

Other areas on which the Plan focuses are reducing environmental pollution and exposure to hazardous substances, to vaccinate at least 90% of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030, improve early detection and diagnosis, ensure a high-quality workforce, and provide greater and more equal access to essential medicines and innovation.

“It is extremely encouraging to see such decisive action at the level of the EU and inspiring to have WHO/Europe launch its own initiative with the appointment of a Cancer Ambassador. The fact that cancer is being tackled with renewed emphasis and resources even in the midst of the pandemic is particularly significant. Both initiatives emphasise the importance of prevention as a means to reduce cancer-related deaths and of palliative care and quality of life, which are too often neglected. There is also an expressed desire to reduce inequities so that everyone has access to the same level of quality cancer care. All of this is well aligned with UICC’s own efforts to reduce the global cancer burden.”
–    Dr Cary Adams, CEO of UICC 

Last update: 
Tuesday 9 March 2021
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