Not just a woman’s disease

The fight against cervical cancer is making progress, but we must ensure we keep the momentum going, urges Sara Cerdas.
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By Sara Cerdas MEP

Sara Cerdas (PT, S&D) is a vice-chair of the European Parliament's Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA)

04 Feb 2022

Recent studies estimate that in the European Union, cervical cancer accounts for 2.5 percent of all new cancer cases (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) diagnosed in women, with over 30,000 new cases and more than 13,000 premature deaths in 2020. 

As we know, cervical cancer is a disease that affects mostly young women and occurs in the cells of the cervix - the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The major risk factor for developing cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly from high-risk virus strains such as 16 and 18. 

“Cervical cancer is a women’s disease, but prevention is everyone’s responsibility”

To tackle this public health issue, there are two main preventive strategies that we should resort to; vaccination and population-based screening. Existing vaccines are highly effective in preventing HPV infection, while effective screening methods are also available to detect precancerous lesions of the cervix.

As cervical cancer ranks 12th among the most-frequent causes of cancer death among women, a decline in mortality from the disease has been observed in most European countries over the last decades. However, this reduction hides a high level of variation when comparing different countries, with Eastern, Central and Southern European countries showing higher mortality rates, which reflects differences in cancer prevention, management and treatment.

On 4 February, we will mark World Cancer Day, a reminder to all to raise awareness and take action at European, national and local levels. We all have the right and responsibility to be socially active, making sure that vaccination and population-based screening is offered to all our citizens, wherever they are, and encouraging people to engage with preventive measures.

The work of the Special Committee on Beating Cancer’s (BECA) was finalised late last year, with concrete recommendations for Member States and the EU institutions being set in order to strengthen Europe’s resilience against cancer.

Among other considerations, the BECA Committee focused on promoting access to cross-border healthcare and clinical trials for cancer patients, extending the use of joint procurement procedures, managing shortages of cancer medicines, guaranteeing the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ and ensuring equal access to innovative cancer drugs and treatments. 

“We must ensure that no cancer patient is left behind; neither those who need to be diagnosed nor those who need treatment. This shall be our main goal and focus”

Cancer must be kept high on the agenda of all health systems, institutions and policymakers, despite the COVID-19 pandemic - and this is what we have been fighting for over these last two years. With dedicated funds under the EU4Health programme and other funding instruments, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, launched in 2021, with €4bn, aims to help prevent cancer and ensure that cancer patients, survivors and their families and carers can enjoy a better quality of life. 

By tapping into a broad range of EU policies, notably digitalisation, research and innovation, the cancer plan is helping EU countries turn the tide against cancer. It includes actions and flagship initiatives covering the entire disease pathway: prevention, early detection, diagnosis, accessibility to treatments and quality of life for both cancer patients and survivors. 

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will support EU Member States’ efforts to extend routine vaccination against human papillomaviruses, setting the objective of covering at least 90 percent of the EU target population of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030. Cervical cancer is a women’s disease, but prevention is everyone’s responsibility.

In 2022, we hope to approve BECA’s final report “Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – towards a comprehensive and coordinated strategy” in Plenary. As we deal with the consequences from the pandemic, we need to bear in mind the importance of vaccination and population-based screening. We must ensure that no cancer patient is left behind; neither those who need to be diagnosed nor those who need treatment. This shall be our main goal and focus. 

Read the most recent articles written by Sara Cerdas MEP - European Health Forum Gastein: The case for a European Health Union

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