“By pooling all our talents, knowledge and resources, we can truly join all our forces in the fight against cancer.” So claimed Manfred Weber during the 2019 elections, paving the way for a special committee in the fight against cancer. Today this committee is a reality. This fight will be a priority for many in the coming years.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a European Plan to fight Cancer in her political guidelines and Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides has shown her ambitions in presenting the EU “Beating Cancer Plan” in the Parliament, which will be finalised by the end of 2020. This special committee is needed now more than ever. Each year 3.5 million people in Europe will be diagnosed with cancer and 1.3 million will die from this disease.
If we don’t act now, the number of cases will double by 2035. By pooling resources and expertise, we can create a comprehensive European cancer masterplan, acting as a catalyst for thorough and innovative cancer care and research. This should be focused on prevention, specialised care and treatment that puts the patients at its heart, as well as a zero-pollution environment. Prevention is key in the fight against cancer.
A healthy and affordable diet and lifestyle, reduced tobacco, alcohol and drug consumption, a healthy living environment and vaccination coverage are important factors. However, we cannot fall back on a model that blames the individual. Instead, policymakers must provide preconditions and make clear and brave legislative decisions.
“We cannot fall back on a model that blames the individual. Instead, policymakers must provide preconditions and make clear and brave legislative decisions”
It is crucial that we link our work in the cancer committee to ongoing European climate action. As part of the European Green Deal, the zero-pollution ambition for a toxic-free environment will improve our health and living environment.
Too often, we are exposed to carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting substances through our water, food, air and the everyday household products we use. These harmful substances end up in our bodies and may cause new cancer cases.
We need to ban the most harmful chemicals and protect our workers against cancer-causing chemicals, continuing the work of former Commissioner Marianne Thyssen. In our journey to a circular economy, we must ensure toxic chemicals do not end up in recycled products. A nontoxic circular economy is essential. Cancer treatment requires the correct specialised therapy.
It is essential to make sure that all patients are included. One group of patients I would like to explicitly focus on are adolescents and young adults (AYAs). AYAs, who are at an age that they should be enjoying life, not worrying about their health, often fall between the classic groups of paediatric and adult treatments and research. In addition, timely patient access to affordable medicines and treatments is vital.
A child from, for example, Bulgaria is worth the same as a child from Belgium and thus deserves the same opportunities and access. In addition, given the recent Coronavirus crisis, boosting immunity will also be of huge importance. To make a difference at European level, we need to pool our expertise, experience, research and resources.
We have to embrace all the possibilities of new, innovative and advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, which offers many new possibilities for detecting cancers at an earlier stage and for more accurate, rapid and personalised treatment. Research into the correlation between environmental factors and epigenetics is also increasing.
Therefore, we need to base our policy on human biomonitoring. We must remain fully committed to research and development to improve diagnoses, treatments and medicines with the best therapies and high-tech treatments. The importance of providing sufficient resources for innovative research cannot be understated. In this special committee’s work, the patient will always be put at the core of our initiatives.
“We must harness the momentum and create a window of opportunity for all those affected by this horrible disease”
We have to listen to patients, survivors and their families, who can tell us where we need to improve. We need to develop an all-encompassing approach, providing care at all stages of the disease and all aspects of life, both during and after treatment
We have to consider all aspects of this disease: the quality of life, in both the short and long term; the side effects of both the disease and the treatment; the financial implications and the social side of living with the disease. We also need to consider the informal carers, the relatives and those left behind.
For that reason, the input and participation of patients and patient associations is invaluable. By setting up an all-encompassing and holistic strategy, we can truly offer added value to the life of patients and their families.
One thing is clear: we must harness the momentum and create a window of opportunity for all those affected by this horrible disease.