Europe's Beating Cancer Plan should be the first step towards a true European Health Union, argues Véronique Trillet-Lenoir

The complexity of cancer and the search for solutions is such that it will require a coordinated, pan-European approach - and funding to match, says European Parliament's BECA committee rapporteur
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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

01 Oct 2021

When we can gather efforts from all 27 Member States, we can take up the challenge and fight against cancer - a disease that affects millions of European citizens each year – more strongly.

Even if mortality rates have fallen slightly as a result of screening campaigns and therapeutic innovation, the overall number of cancer cases diagnosed is increasing, particularly as a result of longer life expectancy; indeed, almost three-quarters of all cancer diagnoses in the EU are in people aged 60 or over. Therefore, the EU and its Member States should mobilise their forces and provide adequate incentives and sustainable budgets.

In a fair and equitable community, we must all fight health inequalities both between citizens and between States. We must guarantee all patients in Europe, their families - as well as recovered patients – access to innovative, efficient care and long-term support, from recovery to a return to normal life.

“Although the primary responsibility for health protection and health care systems lies with Member States, a common policy at European level is essential for research, innovation and progress, particularly in rare, complex and costly situations”

We urgently need to hear the call of future generations seeking protection from health threats, as well as the concern of governments over the growing economic burden of cancer and its associated treatments and sequelae.

Although the primary responsibility for health protection and health care systems lies with Member States, a common policy at European level is essential for research, innovation and progress, particularly in rare, complex and costly situations.

This is why we need to promote the “Health in All Policies” and “One Health” approaches at a supranational level. A European strategy against cancer must be put in place, one that is in line with the recommendations from international health authorities such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is built around four main areas of action. The first is prevention, to avoid 40 percent of cancers: it is based on reducing risky behaviours (mainly tobacco and alcohol consumption), promoting a healthy lifestyle and controlling environmental carcinogens. Here, we propose a strong target on smoking: “a smoke-free generation” by 2040.

The second is screening, which is uneven across different European countries. We recommend harmonising objectives and methods, support for innovation, practice collaboration and exchanges through a common platform between national structures. We suggest organising European awareness days.

The third is fair access to health care. We are calling for better communication on the Cross-Border Care Directive, as well as better financial support for those patients affected. We are insisting on the need to identify and recognise, in a homogeneous way, the qualifications of health professions within the EU that are specialised in cancer and on the importance of developing digital health solutions.

We are asking that quality criteria be defined and put in place for health establishments treating cancer patients and that at least one reference comprehensive cancer centre be identified in each Member State.

“In a fair and equitable community, we must all fight health inequalities both between citizens and between States”

The last is support for patients, survivors and carers. We want to make recommendations to Member States for improving the quality of life, rehabilitation and health literacy of all cancer patients and their relatives, including the introduction of a post-treatment passport and the right to be forgotten.

But none of this will be possible without putting in place the means of action to match our ambitions. Research is the main element; the complexity of this disease justifies cooperation on a European scale, in conjunction with the Horizon Europe Mission programme. Sharing knowledge and expertise is also key.

Networking on rare, complex or difficult to cure cancers by strengthening the European Reference Networks and sharing training programmes for health professionals will also be important. The collection and analysis of databases (from cancer registries, clinical trials and from real-world evidence) is essential for a better understanding of the determinants of cancer, which is why we are seeking the creation of a “European Cancer cloud” within the “European Health Data Space”.

To help the effectiveness of the plan, we advocate for the creation of a European Virtual Cancer Institute, with three main goals: to coordinate the 27 National Cancer Programmes; to elaborate recommendations, accreditation criteria, and training priorities and to host the Cancer Knowledge Centre (in charge of prevention campaigns, register of inequalities and communications to the public).

The planned €4bn budget cannot come from the EU4Health Programme alone but must be supported by other budget tools such as Horizon Europe, Digital Europe and the Cohesion Fund. To encourage a pan-European approach, we recommend that no more than one-third of this budget be allocated directly to EU Member States. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan should be the first step towards a true European Health Union. 

Read the most recent articles written by Véronique Trillet-Lenoir - European Week Against Cancer: Fighting on all fronts

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