The European Commission’s new European Beating Cancer Plan has received a guarded welcome from MEPs

Ambitious health plan unveiled just ahead of World Cancer Day (4 February).
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 Feb 2021

The European Commission has hailed its new strategy as a step forward in addressing cancer, an illness that affects millions of Europeans and their families.

An estimated 1.3 million people die from cancer each year, including 6000 children, while the medical and financial consequences for those who survive are huge.

The plan centres around four key areas: prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment and improving quality of life.

The EU budget has earmarked €4bn to address cancer, including from the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe and the Digital Europe programme.

The Beating Cancer Plan foresees the establishment of a Cancer Inequalities Registry to “identify challenges and guide investments and interventions” at EU and national levels.

New “digital tools”, such as the European Cancer Imaging Initiative, the European Health Data Space and the strengthening of the European Cancer Information System will, it is hoped, allow the EU to use Artificial Intelligence for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The plan also includes a commitment to encourage a shift to a more plant-based diet, with less red and processed meat and other foods linked to cancer risk, and more fruit and vegetables.

"In 2020, we lost 1.3 million Europeans to this disease. And sadly, the number of cases is on the rise. This is why we are presenting Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The fight of those battling cancer is our fight as well, in Europe” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Speaking at the launch, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said: “In 2020, while we were all fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were fighting a silent battle; the battle against cancer.

In 2020, we lost 1.3 million Europeans to this disease. And sadly, the number of cases is on the rise. This is why we are presenting Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The fight of those battling cancer is our fight as well, in Europe.”

The European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) will discuss the plan with Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides later today.

Further comment comes from Kyriakides, who said: “This is first and foremost about people. About celebrating and reinforcing resilience and treating cancer as a disease that can and must be overcome.”

Bartosz Arlukowicz, chair of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) welcomed the Commission’s announcement, saying: “Over the last few years, fighting cancer has been high on the Parliament’s agenda, culminating in the setting up of BECA.”

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget about the disease that kills 1.3 million Europeans every year, and for which there is no vaccination that can eliminate it altogether.”

“We want to undertake the enormous task of beating cancer together, as a Union. Shared knowledge and databases, support for screening programmes, co-financing of HPV vaccinations, are among the many steps we will not hesitate to take on our path to finally beating cancer.”

“In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget about the disease that kills 1.3 million Europeans every year, and for which there is no vaccination that can eliminate it altogether” Bartosz Arlukowicz, chair of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA)

In a statement, German member Manfred Weber, who heads the European Parliament’s centre-right EPP Group, and Cindy Franssen, the group's spokeswoman for cancer-related issues, said, “We made a commitment to Europeans; we promised to pick up the fight against cancer to save lives. We kept our promise. Now it's time to put money on the table.”

The Socialists and Democrats group also expressed its support for “this initial positive step” but called for “reinforced coordination and shared research among Member States to ensure all citizens in the EU can rely on effective and high-quality treatment and care.”

S&D coordinator on BECA, Alessandra Moretti, said, “The Plan is one of the main tools in the fight against one of the leading causes of death in the EU.”

The Italian MEP went on, “However, we need to be even more ambitious. The S&D group will commit through the work of the BECA committee to ensure that European citizens have equal access to screening, prevention plans, early diagnosis and high-quality treatments with enhanced co-ordination between EU institutions and member states in those fields.”

S&D coordinator in the Parliament’s Environment Committee, Jytte Guteland, said, “The Plan, the pharmaceutical strategy and overall health union package, are important steps towards building a strong and inclusive European Health Union. We need to look at issues holistically to provide solutions.”

“Up to 40 percent of all cancer cases are preventable and it is crucial that we address the causes,” said the Swedish MEP.

Further MEP reaction came from Renew Europe (RE) Group member Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, Parliament’s rapporteur on the special BECA committee, who noted, “Promoting the fight against cancer in all policies and in all available funds is the best approach. With a budget of €4bn from EU4Health, Horizon Europe, Digital Europe, Erasmus + and cohesion policy funds, the plan will earmark concrete and ambitious actions in health, research but also in environment, agriculture and mobility.”

"The Plan, the pharmaceutical strategy and overall health union package, are important steps towards building a strong and inclusive European Health Union. We need to look at issues holistically to provide solutions” S&D coordinator in the Parliament’s Environment Committee, Jytte Guteland

Romanian RE MEP Nicolae Ştefănuță commented, “Only together can we solve the cancer epidemic. That means no one in the EU should be left without cancer drugs, without the newest molecules, without the rarest medicines. This is a fight that Europe can win through research, joint procurement and cross-border treatment.”

Croatian EPP member Tomislav Sokol said, “I highly welcome this plan, a landmark initiative that will help to save the lives of citizens. The EU is committed to being the global frontrunner in fighting this terrible disease and to reduce the suffering of its citizens. This requires a combination of all forces and efforts.”

Italian ECR deputy Pietro Fiocchi added, “There is undoubtedly much to welcome and measures in the Plan that will help Europe tackle this disease once and for all in the years to come.

“However, I am extremely disappointed that the Plan has not considered harm reduction policies which aim to minimise the health, social and economic impacts of risk factors like alcohol and tobacco.”

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