#EPGenderEqualityWeek: It’s time to reimagine care and transform breast cancer together, argues Frances Fitzgerald

Now more important than ever to ensure minimum disruption to the treatment and lives of patients suffering from conditions such as breast cancer, says Irish MEP.
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By Frances Fitzgerald

Frances Fitzgerald (IE, EPP) is a member of Parliament’s Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee

29 Oct 2020

This week sees European Parliament Gender Equality Week, with events held in many committees looking at the gender perspective of their work.

The new Special Committee on Beating Cancer held a hearing on breast cancer specifically to mark the week and also to mark October, Breast Cancer awareness month.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unprecedented crisis to Europe, reflected both economically and societally, particularly in health and healthcare.

It has demonstrated the shortcomings of our health systems, causing enormous disruptions, delays and challenges in ensuring continuity of care for patients with existing conditions.

Those with conditions where prevention and timing are crucial, such as cancer, have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with patients often struggling to access safe and quality procedures throughout the whole care pathway.

Under the current circumstances, many have refrained from screening due to fear of infection, meaning early detection is no longer to their advantage. Thus, it is now more important than ever to work at both EU and national levels to ensure minimum disruption to the treatment and lives of patients suffering from conditions such as breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in EU countries, with more than 400,000 cases diagnosed in 2018. It is also the main fatal cancer among women, as European women have a one in eight chance of developing the disease.

"Prevention and diagnosis are key in the fight against breast cancer but, despite increased awareness in recent years and improved survival rates of breast cancer patients in most EU countries, notable discrepancies continue to persist across and within the union"

These figures are even more shocking when presented with the following statistic: 40 percent of cancer cases today are preventable. In the case of breast cancer, early detection can significantly increase chance of survival, with advanced screening programmes with mammography leading to a drop of at least 20 percent in mortality rates in women aged over 50.

Prevention and diagnosis are key in the fight against breast cancer but, despite increased awareness in recent years and improved survival rates of breast cancer patients in most EU countries, notable discrepancies continue to persist across and within the union.

In 2015, the percent of women between 50 and 69 years of age screened for breast cancer in the Netherlands was 78.2 percent, whereas in Romania it was 0.2 percent, showing the severe inequalities that persist between Member States.

Therefore, my group in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), has worked hard to place breast cancer at the forefront of EU policymaking.

Notably, the EPP achieved the creation of the Special Committee on Cancer that was adopted in the Parliament on June. This not only ensures the highest level of parliamentary focus on cancer and related issues but is also a strong political sign that action must be taken.

In this context, I agreed to Co-Chair the ‘Transforming Breast Cancer Together’ initiative at European level that was launched in November 2017 as a multi-stakeholder collaboration between policymakers, patient organisations, medical professionals and industry.

The initiative aims to raise awareness around the daily realities of living with breast and advanced cancer and to ensure that the fight against cancer remains high on the EU policy agenda.

"Our goal is to make sure all Member States not only have optimal solutions as to how to prevent, detect and best treat breast cancer, but also to guarantee all women have a high quality of life throughout all stages of the disease"

Transforming Breast Cancer Together works closely with the European Institutions to support the fight against breast cancer.

The initiative also contributed to the roadmap and the public consultation on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, focusing on the need to address current discrepancies across the EU in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and patient outcomes, ensuring that all Member States adhere to the highest standards for the fight against breast cancer.

Earlier this year, we published a statement on the impact of COVID-19 on breast cancer patients, emphasising the need to ensure the protection of at-risk patient groups. The initiative hosted an event during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October to raise awareness around the huge unmet needs of people living with advanced forms of breast cancer.

I strongly believe that European countries can work together, sharing knowledge and best practices to confront this terrible disease. Our goal is to make sure all Member States not only have optimal solutions as to how to prevent, detect and best treat breast cancer, but also to guarantee all women have a high quality of life throughout all stages of the disease.

In this regard, guidelines to support breast cancer patients and survivors when returning to the workplace are essential, as well as offering help to families and carers.

Through this collaboration, we will continue working with the European Parliament and European Commission to tackle the challenges associated with breast cancer, and ultimately support patients and their families during and after the disease.

I am confident we can finally reimagine care for those all affected by the illness and transform breast cancer together.

Read the most recent articles written by Frances Fitzgerald - International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Zero tolerance

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