European Week Against Cancer: Saving lives by raising awareness

Europe can improve the drive for prevention through cancer nurses, writes Sara Matthieu.
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By Sara Matthieu

Sara Matthieu (BE, Greens/EFA) is a substitute member of Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee

27 May 2021

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (EBCP) states that around 40 percent of all cancer cases within the EU are preventable. Prevention has been proven to be more effective than cure and is the most cost-efficient, long-term cancer control strategy.

One of the more specific goals in the Plan is raising awareness among the general public, so that at least 80 percent of EU citizens become aware of the European Code Against Cancer, which includes 12 evidence-based prevention recommendations in 23 languages. So, the question must be, how do we in the European Union improve our drive for prevention among our citizens? The most trusted group of healthcare professionals and the largest cohort in the cancer care community - cancer nurses - can provide some real answers.

The European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS) is an organisation of more than 30,000 cancer nurses across the European region, including all EU Member States. On 18 May each year, it holds its European Cancer Nursing Day (ECND). The theme for 2021 is ‘Strengthening sustainable cancer prevention in healthcare’. Recognising the importance of this initiative, our EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has made a recorded address in support of the campaign. During the month of May, cancer nurses across the EU will share powerful prevention messages on social media.

“Properly supported, cancer nurses are the key, from both a medical and a socioeconomic perspective, to sustainable prevention services affordable to all Member States and their patients”

Health promotion is at the heart of cancer nursing practice and cancer nurses can save lives by raising awareness about the European Code Against Cancer. They are also at the forefront of the interface between patients and the wider community and are uniquely placed to have a major impact on health behaviour in this crucial area. Cancer nurses also provide all stakeholders with education about cancer prevention, primary screening, early detection, vaccination to prevent cancer-causing infections, and screening for secondary malignancies among cancer survivors. They promote risk reduction strategies throughout the entire cancer care continuum, encouraging people to adopt healthier diets, increase their physical activity and give up smoking.

EONS believes that EBCP should embrace and expand the expertise of the cancer nursing community and stresses that cancer nurses must be supported by policymakers if their impact is to be maximised. EONS is developing a plan to contribute a great deal more in reducing the cancer burden across Europe, where the cancer nursing profession could have an even greater impact in increasing prevention.

The EONS Prevention Plan will strongly support both EBCP in its promise to give people the tools they need to make healthier choices and promote greater awareness of European Code Against Cancer’s 12 recommendations. Here EONS’ role will be integral to success: while ECND 2021 focuses on cancer prevention from a cancer nursing perspective, ECND 2022 will feature cancer prevention with an emphasis on targeting the general public. A twelve-month campaign on cancer prevention will start in May 2022. It will focus on one of the Code’s recommendation’s each month.

The campaign will see collaboration with other influential healthcare organisations and feature both ‘physical’ and online events. Education programmes for nurses and the general public will be developed by EONS’ Education Working Group, alongside research projects developed by EONS’ Research Working Group. EONS’ fast-growing Young Cancer Nurse Network will also play a significant role, future-proofing this important work and helping to embed it across the cancer nursing continuum.

“Cancer nurses should be included in the Plan as equal partners with medical oncologists, radiologists, oncology surgeons, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals in cancer”

But EONS cannot do it alone. They need our help. If we fail to invest in the development of cancer nursing throughout the European Union, we will fail to deliver equal access to preventive care across EU Member States and drive down health inequalities. Properly supported, cancer nurses are the key, from both a medical and a socioeconomic perspective, to sustainable prevention services affordable to all Member States and their patients. 

I agree with EONS that the proposal in the EBCP for an ‘inter-specialty cancer training programme’ is welcome and that it should have cancer nurses at its core, fully acknowledging their expanding role. Cancer nurses should be included in the Plan as equal partners with medical oncologists, radiologists, oncology surgeons, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals in cancer. Only then will we realise the  huge potential impact cancer nurses have on prevention, make faster progress towards the 80 percent awareness goal and start to address the 40 percent of preventable cancer cases.

Read the most recent articles written by Sara Matthieu - Cancer nurses and prevention are crucial in reducing Europe’s cancer burden

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