Speaking at a high-level conference on cancer, Vytenis Andriukaitis said, “We are spending 3 per cent of our resources on prevention but that is a drop in the ocean and we urgently need to increase that amount.”
He also called for the creation of a network of “cancer champions” in each EU Member State to advocate and promote “much-needed” improvements in cancer care.
The commissioner told the packed audience, “Getting on top of cancer requires investment in research and innovation and I can assure you that cancer will remain a priority for the next commission.”
Andriukaitis, EU commissioner for health and food safety from 2014-2019, was giving a keynote address on Friday at the 2019 European Cancer Summit in Brussels.
He said, “Cancer is relentless and nobody knows that better than the patients and survivors here today.”
He added that having lost three “beloved brothers to this terrible disease” he had “first hand” experience of the “emotional devastation of cancer.”
“Cancer damages our families, communities, our economies and our health systems.”
“Getting on top of cancer requires investment in research and innovation and I can assure you that cancer will remain a priority for the next Commission” Vytenis Andriukaitis
The Lithuanian official, soon to relinquish his current role, told the summit that when he took up the position in 2014 he said that one of his “major priorities” was the “promotion of health and protection and prevention of disease.”
“Today, I am more convinced than ever of the need to get ahead of non-communicable diseases like cancer and tackle them at their source.”
He praised the European Cancer Organisation as a “constant, crucial” partner in cancer prevention, an effort that “requires a multi-faceted approach.”
Andriukaitis also reflected on the achievements and “noteworthy developments” during the last five years of the current Commission in aiding countries in combating cancer and helping patients to receive treatment and optimal care.
“They are all important pieces of the bigger picture.”
In the 50-minute session he cited the European Reference Networks dealing with rare cancers which were set up under the cross-border healthcare directive.
“This innovative system connects medical specialists across the EU and allows them to operate as one,” he said.
“Given Stella Kyriakides’ experience as a policymaker and advocate in the area of cancer, I am sure you will agree that I leave you in excellent hands” Vytenis Andriukaitis
Another example he cited was population-based screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers which, he said, was “saving lives every day.”
He said, “Today, we have 25 Member States with population-based screening for breast cancer, 22 for cervical cancer and 20 for colorectal cancer screening, compared to 18, 17 and 12 countries respectively ten years ago.”
The EU health policy platform, another example of “best practice”, has helped civil society and health professionals to promote debate about public health concerns, said Andriukaitis.
He also highlighted the “vital legislation” preventing cancers due to chemicals, pesticides and other carcinogens such as radon.
“And we are carrying out crucial work to encourage healthy and active lifestyles among children,” he told the audience of medical practitioners and health NGOs.
In a Q&A session after his address, Andriukaitis also said he hoped to see the establishment of a network of “cancer champions”, including civil society, in every Member State in order to advocate and promote improved cancer care for all types of the disease.
“These are not empty words and the coming years will be crucial in maintaining this momentum.”
“Today, we have 25 Member States with population-based screening for breast cancer, 22 for cervical cancer and 20 for colorectal cancer screening, compared to 18, 17 and 12 countries respectively ten years ago" Vytenis Andriukaitis
He said he also wanted to look forward not just “at what we have done”, noting that the European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, had already asked his successor, Stella Kyriakides, to put forward a European plan to beat cancer.
“Given Stella Kyriakides’ experience as a policymaker and advocate in the area of cancer, I am sure you will agree that I leave you in excellent hands,” he declared.
The summit has brought together leaders from cancer care, research, patient advocacy and public-private sectors and concludes on Saturday.