Investing more in research to step up the fight against cancer

If the EU is realistic about the fight against cancer, it needs to commit to investing properly in research, argues Francis Zammit Dimech.

| Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Francis Zammit Dimech

05 Feb 2019

I can recount few cases where the subject of cancer is not brought up during visits I make to various Maltese homes as part of my political work.

In many cases, people tell me about family members or friends they have lost to the disease. Others share the harsh realities of undergoing treatment.

This is no surprise, as Malta sees more than 2,000 new cancer cases and 900 deaths from cancer each year.


Numbers across the EU are also high; according to Eurostat, 1.3 million people died from cancer in the EU in 2015, more than one quarter of all deaths. This is why I have made the fight against cancer one of my top priorities at the European Parliament.

We need to fight cancer in every possible way. It is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the EU.

We need to ensure that the workplace, where people spend long hours, is a cancer-free environment. At the European Parliament, we have worked to make this happen by revising the permitted exposure limits to carcinogens or mutagens - 21 substances in this legislature alone.

Recently we revised the exposure limits of five further carcinogens, substances found in a number of working environments, including construction, laboratories, waste management and electronics. I am proud to have contributed to this process.

“We need to fight cancer in every possible way. It is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the EU”

Recently I had the opportunity to visit laboratories at the University of Malta, meeting dedicated scientists and researchers. I was impressed by the research into cancer and the results achieved through national and European funds and European co-operation.

However, funding for running equipment to conduct research is a major challenge. Last year, the EPP Group devised a clear policy paper for fighting cancer with the ambition that nobody in the EU dies from cancer within 20 years.

If we want to reach such an ambitious target, we have to invest more in research. I welcome the European Parliament’s clear position in asking Member States to increase the EU budget for research and innovation from €77bn to €120bn in the upcoming 2021-2027 MFF.

The EPP group seeks to place the fight against cancer, particularly rare cancers in children, at the top of the research agenda.

Yet it is not only more research funding that we need; greater co-operation at the EU level is also needed. We need to pool research efforts, results and knowledge at EU level.

This is crucial for ensuring that more children experiencing rare cancers are cured, as well as facilitating the exchange of robust scientific data for screening and early detection.

Cancer NGOs play a crucial role for cancer patients and their families during and after their illness. Therefore it is important to empower them to continue offering high-quality support.

“We cannot give up; we have no option other than to step up our fight against cancer in every possible way”

In Malta, we have several cancer NGOs. Over the years, these have filled the vacuum left by the national health services.

In the past few months, I have made a point of hosting several of these organisations (including EuropaDonna, Hospice Malta, Karl Vella Foundation, Malta Health Network and the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation) in Brussels to take part in policy debates.

During these discussions, the importance of the involvement of local cancer NGOs at EU level was crystal clear. I want NGOs with strong hands-on experience with patients and their families to shape policies.

I have worked with the European Cancer League (ECL) to ensure that the Malta Cancer Platform becomes affiliated with this European Network.

I believe that organisations across the EU can share and learn from each other in offering high-quality services to cancer patients and their families.

Here, I want to take this opportunity to thank the President of Malta, H.E. Marie Louise Coleiro Preca for making this possible.

Cancer has touched so many families and friends. We cannot give up; we have no option other than to step up our fight against cancer in every possible way.

I want to conclude by thanking a number of employers, cancer NGOs and health care professionals that assist patients diagnosed with cancer and their families.

I firmly commit, along with my colleagues in MEPs Against Cancer - a cross-party group of MEPs - that I will continue to strive for this genuine cause.