The European Green Deal: a milestone for cancer prevention

Cancer claims the lives of millions of people each year, but the European Green Deal could have a life-extending effect on citizens’ health, explains Véronique Trillet-Lenoir
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By Véronique Trillet-Lenoir

Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (RE, FR) is a member of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer

03 Feb 2020

Among the priorities of the new European Commission is an ambitious plan to beat cancer, one of the leading causes of mortality in many Member States.

Cancer claims the lives of around 1.5m citizens per year and causes untold distress for the patients and their relatives.

The cost of cancer, including care-related expenses as well as loss of income, is estimated at €126bn per year.


A plan to beat this deadly disease will have to address reinforced measures to limit tobacco use and alcohol abuse; equal access to affordable medicines, including anti HPV vaccines, with a special focus on the increasing risk of shortages and the need to converge on acceptable prices.

Other areas of focus must be high-level research and innovation especially in the field of Artificial Intelligence and digital health; networking against rare diseases including childhood cancers; the efficient collection and sharing of clinical data; recommendations for good practices; improvement of palliative care as well as social and professional reinsertion after rehabilitation.

“A plan to beat this deadly disease will have to address reinforced measures to limit tobacco use and alcohol abuse”

Given that 40 percent of cancers appear to be avoidable, concerted eff orts should be made to implement active prevention policies.

Since the main goal of the European Green Deal is to improve the wellbeing and survival rates of plants, animals and, of course, humans, not surprisingly it entails a large-scale public health programme focused on prevention aspects.

The Green Deal aims to reduce environmental pollution and considering the dramatic consequences of air pollution on human health, a significant decrease in fossil energies is crucial.

Likewise, cracking down on environmental pollutants such as endocrine disrupters present in some pesticides, should contribute to reduce the incidence of two major hormone-related and frequent killers: breast cancer (the leading cause of death from cancer in women) and prostate cancer (the most frequent type of cancer in men).

Reduction of toxic substances in the air, water and soil (including those derived from anti-cancer pharmaceuticals and carcinogenic tobacco residues) will have to be effective in all living spaces.

This particularly applies to workplaces, where the incidence of cancer due to occupational carcinogens exposure reaches 120,000 citizens per year, leading to approximately 80,000 death annually.

The Green Deal’s ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy of enhanced safety and health of agriculture-derived food, including better information for consumers through improved food labelling such as the Nutri-Score, will contribute to prevent colon and rectal cancers, known to be linked to obesity due to bad nutrition habits.

The Green Deal will also be an important factor in establishing energy-efficient housing, as well as providing incentives to a healthier lifestyle in terms of soft transportation and increased adapted physical activity (another factor in preventing breast, colon and uterine cancers).

The success of this potentially life-extending effect of the Green Deal on citizens’ health will depend on crucial conditions: the training of health professionals and involvement of all stakeholders (including politicians and patients associations, for example) to share and implement this new vision of care.

It also depends on identifying simple and reproducible epidemiological indicators to assess the real impact of the policies, as well as reducing health inequalities known to be related to a low level of education or/and income.

“Taking steps towards a healthier and safer environment should also have an impact on the reduction of various other diseases such as asthma, thanks to decreased air pollution”

Taking steps towards a healthier and safer environment should also have an impact on the reduction of various other diseases such as asthma, thanks to decreased air pollution.

Moreover, metabolic dysfunctions such as obesity and diabetes, as well as heart failures or strokes, should benefit from healthier food production and increased physical activity.

Finally, the Green Deal’s priority to fight against climate change through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will hopefully reduce the direct and indirect consequences on health: dehydration and malnutrition, mental health degradation, as well as the worrying proliferation of insect vectors of emerging viruses, already present in European countries.

The announcement of two major programmes aiming at improving the well-being and health of EU inhabitants is an outstanding opportunity to follow the Sustainable Development Goals, to implement the ‘Health in all policies’ principle and to make the transition to a safer and healthier continent.

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