In 2020 alone, 1.3 million European citizens lost their lives to cancer, in a silent battle that has had a devastating impact on patients and their families as well as on the economy. The total annual economic impact of cancer in Europe is estimated at more than €100 billion. The year 2020 saw 2.7 million new diagnoses in the EU, and without decisive intervention this number will increase by nearly 25% by 2035, making cancer Europe’s leading cause of death.
Equal access to diagnosis and treatment
While 40% of cancer cases may be preventable through strategies that include screening programmes for early detection, access to testing is not equal across the EU. Breast cancer screening for at-risk women is as low as 6% in some countries and as high as 90% in others, while cervical cancer screening rates vary from 25% to 80%. Survival rates also vary by as much as 20% in different member states. The right to diagnosis and treatment should be the same for all, regardless of country of origin, but unfortunately this is not the case.
Key action areas of the new European approach
In November 2020, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, presented the new EU Beating Cancer Plan, a Europe-wide political commitment with €4 billion of funding. Cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship are four key pillars that support the plan.
Actions aimed at education and prevention will address key cancer risks like smoking, alcohol abuse, and environmental pollution. The plan will promote healthy diet and physical exercise, and vaccination campaigns for those forms of cancer caused by infections. The EU Cancer Screening Scheme will ensure access to early detection for those considered at-risk for certain types of cancer. New National Comprehensive Cancer Centres will provide access to quality treatment for all, while the Cancer Inequalities Registry will already be active from 2021, identifying and flagging disparities across the EU. The strategy also focuses on rehabilitation, reintegration, potential recurrence, and after-care to improve the lives of cancer survivors. There are around 300,000 childhood cancer survivors in the EU, and special focus will go to quality diagnosis and treatment for children.
The Cancer Ambassador inspires hope for a better future
In fact, on World Cancer Day, 4 February 2021, a childhood cancer survivor was announced as WHO/Europe’s very first Cancer Ambassador. At just 8 years of age, Aron Anderson was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently lost function in both legs, but his wheelchair has not stopped him from scaling mountains, parachuting, cycling, and skiing across continents. Now 33 years old, Aron is a motivational speaker and inspirational role model. He will work to raise awareness about behaviours linked to cancer risk factors, especially in young people, and the importance of early diagnosis. “As a cancer survivor myself, I was lucky to get a second chance at life,” he commented about his new role. “Now I want to help as many people as possible to get that second chance at life, too.”