Today, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all cancers. To change this demands a concerted effort at many levels; improving diagnosis and treatment and reducing the key risk factors. The EU has a role to play in all of these activities.
Some important steps have already been taken. The recently adopted clinical trials regulation should be significant, especially in the case of rare pancreatic cancers.
By encouraging more cross border trials and increasing the amount of relevant data, effective treatments for rare conditions could be made available sooner. Coupled with funding support from the EU health programme, valuable progress could become with diagnosis and treatment.
EU policies should continue to address the key risk factors for pancreatic cancer; smoking, obesity and diabetes.
The recently adopted tobacco products directive creates a much stronger regulatory framework that helps reinforce anti-smoking policies and should pave the way for further measures. This can only lead to fewer cancers of the types with established links to smoking, including pancreatic cancer.
The EU has taken steps to tackle obesity, notably through the action plan on childhood obesity. This plan is welcome, but it is not comprehensive and lacks the appropriate measures needed to address the challenges.
On diabetes, the European Parliament has long called for an EU diabetes strategy, but so far this has not been forthcoming.
This is hugely disappointing given the number of people suffering from diabetes, the enormous cost to health services and the range of associated health problems, including pancreatic cancer.
Apart from the identified risk factors, there are many unknowns about the causes of pancreatic cancer and what influences its progression.
Through existing legislation, the European Commission and EU agencies are tasked with limiting our exposure to potentially harmful substances such as endocrine disrupters.
However, laws and policies in this area are incomplete and some procedures are not fully developed. This must be addressed with the utmost urgency and with close adherence to the precautionary principle.
We have seen greatly improved survival rates in some cancers following huge progress in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Sadly this is not the case with pancreatic cancer. The EU must step up its efforts on all fronts to ensure that this lack of progress is radically reversed.