Despite the absence of official figures, our national cancer centres and the cancer leagues have launched numerous calls to action to national and European institutions to support cancer patients. Indeed, this demographic is among the most vulnerable, at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19.
The first set of lockdown measures dramatically disrupted and delayed cancer screening and treatment. In France, according to the Gustave Roussy Institute, delays can lead to a two- to five-percent increase in the cancer mortality rate, five years after the start of their treatment. Cancer patients experience interruptions and delays in the delivery of different surgical interventions, shortages in the supply of medications, and disrupted rehabilitation programs.
“As a medical oncologist, I have done my best during this period to remain in regular contact with my patients via telemedicine and promoting ambulatory treatment, wherever possible”
This means cancer patients have fewer chances to recover and are instead put in a very stressful situation which only further jeopardises their mental health. Furthermore, they receive less communication from their healthcare professionals. As a medical oncologist, I have done my best during this period to remain in regular contact with my patients via telemedicine and promoting ambulatory treatment, wherever possible.
COVID-19 has proved a real stress test for our health systems. The greatest lesson we can learn should be to prepare an emergency strategy that allows us to react accordingly in times of crisis. Specific measures of this plan should aim at protecting vulnerable groups such as the cancer patients. Right now, the European Commission and EU Member States need to adopt rapid decisions and promote concrete actions.
Providing free personal protective equipment materials to all healthcare professionals caring for cancer patients, giving access to regular testing and healthcare professionals, essential workers and vulnerable groups, including cancer patients and care givers, should be seen as a priority for all Member States. We need to develop strengthened eHealth systems capable of monitoring symptoms, supporting treatment and care at home, and ensuring permanent access to medical consultations and psychosocial services via e-consultations.
COVID-19-free environments in hospitals are required, as is the reinforcement of the communication between healthcare professionals, patients’ representatives and public authorities to ensure the efficiency and efficacy of health interventions. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, shortages of materials that are key to delivering quality of care to patients have become acutely visible and are a growing problem.
To support cancer treatments in this area, the Commission should propose European prevention and management plans quickly to guarantee access to essential medicines and medical materials. Any further drop-off of supplies threatens to considerably compromise the quality of care, especially for cancer patients. Resolving these shortages must be the highest priority for all governmental structures.
“What we do against cancer, be it during or outside a pandemic, we can reproduce and use to win battles against several diseases”
Lastly, EU Member States will have, in the coming weeks, to ensure coordinated and prioritised access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines in Europe, with particular attention given to cancer patients. Nevertheless, we also need to think beyond Cancer. In the European Parliament, I am advocating for the promotion of broader recommendations to Member States on how to prevent and manage the impacts of the crisis on patients affected by chronic diseases such as such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and of course cancer.
In my opinion, the breakthroughs made in the fight against cancer will benefit other chronic diseases in terms of actions on risk factors, equal access to validated and affordable medicines, as well as on data sharing and exchanges of best practices. I count on the European Commission to consider these recommendations in its coming European Cancer plan.
For this reason, I am - in this instance - asking the Commission to adopt a pan-European strategy for preventing the main non-communicable diseases, cancer and chronic diseases. What we do against cancer, be it during or outside a pandemic, we can reproduce and use to win battles against other diseases.