Health Commissioner unveils roadmap for EU cancer plan

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides delivered her first public speech in the European Parliament after the hearings on Tuesday, 10 December. [BUISSIN/EP]

This article is part of our special report Digital Transformation in Healthcare.

The Commission will kick-off the discussion on the ‘Europe’s beating cancer plan’ on 4 February on the occasion of the world cancer day, while the communication and action plan itself is expected towards the end of 2020, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced.

Speaking at an event of the non-official intergroup of young MEP EU40 on 10 December, she said she wants the preparatory debate to be as inclusive as possible, inviting all stakeholders and patients involved in the process to make a contribution to this “ambitious, but realistic” plan.

“I want you to have high expectations of me,” she said, adding that without such hopes there’s no chance of realising the EU’s ambitions. But she also appreciated being surrounded by colleagues “who have a very high sense of reality as well.”

Kyriakides described the fight against cancer as an issue very close to her heart, not only as one of her priorities in the mission letter received from Commission President Ursula von der Leyen but also because she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago.

Although she is close to patients’ advocacy, having headed Europa Donna, the first coalition of European breast cancer patients, she is also a medical professional as a clinical childhood psychologist.

“Cancer concerns us all, in one way or another,” she said.

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A sneak peek

Kyriakides, who was making her first public speech in the European Parliament since the hearing on her nomination, also enlisted some principles that will lead the Commission’s endeavour in fighting cancer.

The first one is a horizontal approach to cancer, which is in line with the ‘Health in All policies’ principle endorsed by the previous Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis.

“Cancer cannot only be seen in doctor surgery or in the laboratory, but it has to be addressed everywhere from schools to public health policies through healthy life choices,” she said.

According to Kyriakides, it is no longer simply the responsibility of the health sector and non-health actors have to come on board in beating cancer.

“We must understand, for instance, that a healthy diet is a key component of a healthy society,” she said, adding that the EU’s beating cancer plan will rely on the progress on the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, the new EU food policy.

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Addressing risk-factors like tobacco consumption and alcohol abuse will remain on Commission’s radar, as well as vaccination, physical exercise and healthy lifestyle in general.

But Kyriakides also spoke about fair and equal access to treatment reducing inequalities among member states when it comes to screening, early diagnosis and innovative medicines.

“We do know that cancer patients have a much better survival rate if cancer is detected early, but early screening programs do not exist in some member states,” she said.

She added that, since patients have the same fundamental right to access to innovative medicines and clinical trials, it is unacceptable that some EU citizens can’t enjoy the same level of care.

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Against the tsunami

In the EU, a new case of cancer is diagnosed every nine seconds, while 40% of Europeans will face a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives.

Kyriakides pointed out that a cancer diagnosis has a huge financial and social impact on health systems, and the families of patients.

“People close to patients sometimes say that it’s like being hit by a tsunami because everything around you is swept away by many feelings and emotions,” she said.

Survivorship and quality of the care is another issue, as cancer is increasingly switching toward chronic disease, but there is also the challenge of discrimination for cancer patients returned to work or requesting insurance coverage.

“About 40% of cancer cases today are preventable, and that makes me feel very frustrated,” confessed Kyriakides.

“But it makes me feel more determined as well because I think that if we really put our efforts in this area, we can change numbers and statistics around cancer,” she concluded.

Dr. Ben Newton, general manager of global oncology at GE Healthcare, concurred, saying that there is a “wealth of valuable data from every corner of our hospitals and society that – if managed appropriately – can accelerate and improve the entire cancer care pathway from enhanced diagnostics and clinical support to better outcomes”.

He added that we need to encourage policies that help shape health-related data to be used as a common good, such as interoperability, standardisation and security.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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Speaking at the same event, MEP Tomislav Sokol from the European People's Party said: "Cancer needs to be approached horizontally. Connecting all areas of life affecting your well-being and health is key to fighting one of Europe’s largest killers."

Dr Vera Katalinić-Janković, Assistant Minister of Health of Croatia, emphasised the need to join efforts between the development and implementation of national cancer plans and what is happening at the European level. She also confirmed that Croatia's EU Council presidency will hold a two-day conference on oncology on 29-30 April 2020 in Zagreb.



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