European Week Against Cancer: Fighting on all fronts

While all eyes have been trained on the COVID-19 pandemic, the battle against cancer rages on. The EU has no shortage of tools to take on this health Goliath, writes Véronique Trillet-Lenoir.
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By Véronique Trillet-Lenoir

Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (RE, FR) is a member of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer

26 May 2021

Over a million people die of cancer in Europe each year. Among this sobering statistic are 6,000 children. Four million patients require effective and innovative treatments and 12 million cancer survivors face the difficult return to “normal” life. Cancer affects us all. It spares no one. The European Union intends to fight this challenge on all fronts by relying on the pooling of scientific expertise.

Thanks to the Horizon Europe Cancer Mission, the EU will be able to strengthen research and innovation. New digital tools, such as the European Cancer Imaging Initiative, the European Health Data Space and the strengthening of the European Cancer Information System, will allow us to make good use of Artificial Intelligence applied to Big Data in cancer diagnosis and treatment for years to come. No stage of cancer should be overlooked. All patients should benefit from research.

“For children, as for older patients, the struggle unfortunately does not end after the illness. Finding a job and returning to a harmonious social and emotional life are not always easy”

The prevention front is crucial because 40 percent of cancers are preventable. Ambitious legislative proposals are needed to reduce tobacco and alcohol consumption, promote healthy diets and regular physical activity. We also need to better inform individuals about risk factors through the review of the European Code against Cancer.

The European Green Deal is the environmental building block of a vast public health plan. It will allow us to breathe less polluted air, access a healthier diet and improve water quality, thereby significantly reducing the risk of many cancers. The European Parliament also intends to make the building renovation wave an opportunity to accelerate the removal of asbestos, a material which, almost 20 years after its European ban, remains the leading cause of occupational cancer.

Across the EU we have an uneven access to quality diagnostics. This is why we must welcome the European Commission’s proposals to strengthen the early detection of cancer, as well as the review and extension of European recommendations on screening. On the treatment front, concrete proposals to solve the problems of innovative drugs prices and drugs shortages are eagerly awaited by patients - particularly by those with cancer. Let’s not consider the fight against COVID-19 and the fight against cancer as diametrically opposed EU health challenges; on the contrary, let’s transform our successes against the pandemic into successes against cancer.

Pooled procurement of medicines, joint price negotiations, close monitoring of supply tensions, the creation of a strategic reserve and the restoration of manufacturing capacities within the EU are options that the EU must quickly consider for cancer drugs.
We must act decisively against the unbearable injustice of seeing children die of cancer. The long-awaited announcement of the review of European legislation on paediatric and orphan drugs by the first quarter of 2022 is important news. For children, as for older patients, the struggle unfortunately does not end after the illness.

“Concrete proposals to solve the problems of innovative drugs prices and drugs shortages are eagerly awaited by patients - particularly by those with cancer”

Finding a job and returning to a harmonious social and emotional life are not always easy. Too many insurers and banks take into account the medical history of people with cancer for too long. To end this ‘double penalty’, Member States should implement the ‘right to be forgotten’ and retain proposals for a passport for cancer survivors and a European Network of Young Cancer Survivors.

The EU has no shortage of tools to fight these multiple battles. With a budget of €3.95bn from EU4Health, Horizon Europe, Digital Europe, Erasmus + and cohesion funds, the plan will allow us to finance concrete and ambitious actions in the fields of health and research, but also the environment, agriculture and mobility. The determination and expertise of patients is also a tool that must be used and patients must be fully involved. A European Charter could define their rights at each stage of their care path, regardless of the country or region in which they live.

This would be a new step in the fight against inequalities, which must be the common thread of the cancer plan, because cancer is undeniably a disease of social injustice. Creating a Cancer Inequalities Registry will allow us to better assess inequalities and monitor progress.

Read the most recent articles written by Véronique Trillet-Lenoir - Restoring our pharmaceutical autonomy

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