EU 'must continue' fight against cancer

Despite progress made during the last parliament, Glenis Willmott says the 'fight' against cancer must continue into the next legislature.

By Glenis Willmott

19 May 2014

Fighting cancer has been one of my priorities over the last parliamentary term. We have achieved a lot, including: hugely increasing warning sizes on tobacco packaging, introducing the first EU screening guidelines for colorectal cancer, and adopting rules which encourage the development of new treatments for childhood and other rare cancers. But cancer still causes the deaths of three in 10 men and two in 10 women across the EU, therefore our work must continue.

Of course the biggest preventable cause of cancer is tobacco, which kills one in two regular smokers, and this parliament was given the opportunity to dramatically change tobacco regulation. I am proud that this legislation was led by fellow UK Labour MEP Linda McAvan. I am delighted that the thin lipstick-style packs aimed at young women will be taken off the market, all attractive flavourings will be banned, and the majority of cigarette packaging will now be covered with graphic health warnings. However, I think we have to go further. Packaging is the last place available to the tobacco industry to advertise their products to young people, and I want to see fully standardised Australian-style packaging to stop the next generation of smokers from being recruited.

"I want all cancer drugs that have the potential to fight childhood cancers to be properly tested in children"

And if we're serious about preventing cancer, we also have to look at food and alcohol regulation. Many people don't realise that alcohol can cause at least seven types of cancer, including breast and bowel cancer. Europe has the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world, and we have to get a new EU alcohol strategy in place urgently, to help member states reduce alcohol related harm. Public health policies such as minimum unit pricing must not be blocked at EU level, and we must finally label the calories on alcohol bottles, just like we do on everything else.

But food labelling still needs to be improved. An estimated one in 10 cancer cases in the UK is caused by unhealthy diets, and we have to give people the information they need to make healthy choices. I want to see the key information on fat, saturates, sugar, salt and calories to be placed on the front of pack, and to be colour coded with the traffic light scheme to allow consumers to compare at a glance.

Prevention is vital, but treatment also has to be addressed. At the beginning of April the clinical trials regulation was finally adopted, facilitating the cross-border trials which are so vital for rare cancers, such as childhood cancers. For too long these life-saving trials have been hindered by excessive costs. I am proud to be the rapporteur for the new rules which will especially benefit the non-commercial organisations working to improve treatments for patients. Now the rules have to be implemented properly, and the database which will finally ensure full transparency of results must be up and running in time.

"Cancer still causes the deaths of three in 10 men and two in 10 women across the EU, therefore our work must continue"

We also need to ensure that cancer drugs are tested specifically in children, which has sadly been neglected in the past due to the lack of financial incentive. The paediatric regulation has been essential for this, but there are problems with the way it works in practice. A recent study found that 28 new cancer drugs were licensed between 2007 and 2012, and of these 26 worked in ways relevant for cancers found in children. However, at the time of writing, 14 of these drugs were given waivers from the requirement to carry out research in children, because the cancer they were originally designed for is not found in children. Denying children the opportunity to take part in potentially life-saving trials is just not right. The European commission is now reviewing how medicines are exempted from paediatric investigation, and I want all cancer drugs that have the potential to fight childhood cancers to be properly tested in children.

Finally I want to further the achievements we have made fighting human papillomavirus (HPV) and the cancers it causes. While we now have vaccination programmes rolled out across Europe to prevent cervical cancer in women, we need to seriously look at vaccinating men too. This will fight oral, anal and penile cancers in men, as well protecting more women by further reducing the spread of HPV.

If re-elected to the next parliament I will continue my work on all of these issues, and I hope other MEPs will support me in ensuring that EU policies are focused on preventing and treating cancer.

Read the most recent articles written by Glenis Willmott - Alcohol labelling should be about what's best for consumers - not industry

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