The time to unlock the power of cancer screening is now

MEP Sara Cerdas and Emmanuel Chantelot, Vice President & Head of International Policy & Government Affairs at Bristol Myers Squibb, explain why its time for Europe's Beating Cancer Plan to deliver on its promises and improve cancer screening across Europe.
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It’s time for Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to deliver on its promises, says MEP Sara Cerdas.

Although Europe represents less than 10% of the world’s population, it accounts for a quarter of all cancer cases, and cancer in Europe is the second leading cause of death, right after cardiovascular disorders.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was approved in plenary last February and translates the European Parliament’s position on crucial issues to be addressed in order to beat cancer, namely cancer prevention, equal access to cancer care across borders, and a clear European approach addressing medicine shortages.

It is no secret that I wanted more ambition on the adoption of policies that are in line with the evidence we have at the moment. But this plan will be deeply conditioned by its implementation, and this roadmap of actions should be carefully thought through.

We know that 40-50% of deaths by cancer could be avoided, and that around 50% are influenced by unknown factors, which means that we do not have a whole and clear picture of this matter. There are some things that we do know at this point, for example, the major impact that alcohol and tobacco have. Nevertheless, although we do have apparent consensus regarding the effects of some risk factors, I would not say there is consensus on how to approach and tackle these risk factors.

“We know that 40-50% of deaths by cancer could be avoided, and that around 50% are influenced by unknown factors, which means that we do not have a whole and clear picture of this matter”

One key aspect regarding implementation should be the tailoring of policies to the different populations. Involving patients and communities is key here to better understand how to adjust broader frameworks for specific populations and circumstances.

We know that social inequality goes hand-in-hand with worsened health indicators, and eventually, more risk factors of cancer in some cases. The key challenges for the implementation of this plan will be tightly linked with organisation of EU Member States regarding public health and provision of adequate services. On different fronts, such as cancer, we should have a common framework, but a common framework does not mean a copy-paste approach.

In Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Commission announced a new cancer screening scheme aiming to help EU countries ensure that 90% of the EU population who qualify for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings are offered screening by 2025. It is time to deliver.

Emmanuel Chantelot, Bristol Myers Squibb Vice President & Head of International Policy & Government Affairs, explains how expanding cancer screening programmes coupled with cancer care can make a real difference for patients with lung cancer across Europe.

Despite tremendous progress to date, this European Week Against Cancer, we are reminded that we are still far from living in a world without cancer. Prevention, early detection, and early intervention are critical steps to advancing the fight.

The upcoming revision of the Council Recommendation on Cancer Screening, as part of the implementation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, is a significant opportunity to step up the fight against cancer in Europe. Estimates show that approximately 1.2 million people in the European Union lost their lives to the disease  in 2020, and the expectation is for cancer incidence to increase up to 3.6 million new cases in the region by 2040 .

Urgent action is needed to prevent cancer from becoming the leading cause of death in the future. To that end, cancer screening constitutes a powerful tool. The earlier a cancer is detected and treated, the greater the chances of survival for the patients affected.

The 2003 Council Recommendation on cancer screening was a first step in the right direction. By targeting three types of cancers (breast, cervical & colorectal) based on existing evidence, it provided guidelines, encouraging Member States to set up screening programmes in a coordinated manner.

Today, with new technology and evidence available, those guidelines need updating. Bristol Myers Squibb fully supports the establishment of a new Cancer Screening Scheme, as foreseen in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

Our long-standing commitment to patients with cancer has driven us to relentlessly research and develop therapies that have the potential to transform survival expectations for many types of cancer. And we encourage early screening and diagnosis where there is the potential to change the course of the disease through early intervention and treatment.

“The earlier a cancer is detected and treated, the greater the chances of survival for the patients affected”

Ahead of the upcoming revision, we believe that a two-fold set of actions is required. On the one hand, it’s critical to identify and address existing barriers to cancer screening, to reduce the disparities in access to cancer screening that still persist across European countries. On the other, we encourage the European Commission to consider the conclusions of the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies (SAPEA), to extend the scope of the Recommendation to lung cancer, for which evidence shows that cancer screening programmes would effectively reduce the occurrence of this disease and significantly lower mortality.

Lung cancer is the most lethal cancer in the EU, with around 257,300 deaths in 2020, and an expected 26.31% increase in mortality by 2040. We cannot ignore the potential impact of screening and early detection in curbing these rates. In fact, early detection through systematic cancer screening programmes could help avoid up to 22,000 deaths by lung cancer in Europe every year.

We call upon the European Commission and EU Member States to ramp up the fight against cancer by unlocking the power of lung cancer screening. Earlier detection coupled with adequate cancer care can make the difference for patients with lung cancer in Europe.

We at Bristol Myers Squibb remain committed to playing our part in supporting Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Let’s act together to shape the future of cancer care.

This content was commissioned by Bristol Myers Squibb and produced by Dods Impact