Cancer nurses and prevention are crucial in reducing Europe’s cancer burden

With 40 percent of all EU cancer cases preventable, we can improve the drive for prevention through cancer nurses - the most trusted group of healthcare professionals in the cancer care community, writes Sara Matthieu.
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By Sara Matthieu

Sara Matthieu (BE, Greens/EFA) is a substitute member of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee

18 May 2021

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan states that around 40 percent of all cancer cases within the EU are preventable. Prevention has been proven to be more effective than cure and is the most cost-efficient, long-term cancer control strategy.

One of the more specific goals in the Plan is raising awareness among the general public, so that at least 80 percent of EU citizens become aware of the European Code Against Cancer, which includes 12 evidence-based prevention recommendations in 23 languages.

So, the question must be, how do we in the European Union improve our drive for prevention among our citizens?

The most trusted group of healthcare professionals and the largest cohort in the cancer care community - cancer nurses - can provide some real answers.

The European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS) is an organisation of more than 30,000 cancer nurses across the European region, including all Member States of the European Union.

On 18 May each year, it holds its European Cancer Nursing Day (ECND). The theme for 2021 is ‘Strengthening sustainable cancer prevention in healthcare’.

“Cancer nurses can save lives by raising awareness about the European Code Against Cancer; they are at the forefront of the interface between patients and the wider community”

Recognising the importance of this initiative, our EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has made a recorded address in support of the campaign.

During May, cancer nurses across the EU will share powerful prevention messages on social media.

Health promotion is at the heart of cancer nursing practice and cancer nurses can save lives by raising awareness about the European Code Against Cancer. They are at the forefront of the interface between patients and the wider community and are uniquely placed to have a major impact on health behaviour in this crucial area.

Cancer nurses provide all stakeholders with education about cancer prevention, primary screening, early detection, vaccination to stop cancer-causing infections, and screening for second malignancies among cancer survivors.

They promote risk-reduction strategies throughout the entire cancer care continuum, encouraging people to adopt a healthy diet, increase their physical activity and give up smoking.

EONS believes that Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (EBCP) should embrace and expand the expertise of the cancer nursing community and stresses that cancer nurses must be supported by policymakers if their impact is to be maximised.

“Properly supported, cancer nurses are the key, from both a medical and a socioeconomic perspective, to sustainable prevention services affordable to all Member States and their patients”

If we fail to invest in the development of cancer nursing throughout the EU, we will fail to deliver equal access to preventive care across EU Member States and drive down health inequalities.

Properly supported, cancer nurses are the key, from both a medical and a socioeconomic perspective, to sustainable prevention services affordable to all Member States and their patients.

EONS is developing a strategy to help the cancer nursing profession have an even greater impact in increasing prevention, but they cannot do it alone - they need our help.

I agree with EONS that the proposal in the EBCP for an ‘Inter-specialty cancer training programme’ is welcome and that it should have cancer nurses at its core, fully acknowledging their expanding role.

Cancer nurses should be included in the Plan as equal partners with medical oncologists, radiologists, oncology surgeons, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals in cancer.

Only then will we realise our cancer nurses’ huge potential impact on cancer prevention, make faster progress to reaching our 80 percent awareness goal and start to address the 40 percent of preventable cancer cases.

Read the most recent articles written by Sara Matthieu - European Week Against Cancer: Saving lives by raising awareness

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