With over 6,000 new cancer cases diagnosed daily in Europe and a dramatic increase in statistics expected due to ageing populations, EU health ministers have agreed that an integrated EU action plan to fight the disease is needed.
Because “every fourth person in Europe becomes sick with cancer, it is urgent to undertake all measures,” said Slovenian Health Minister Zofija Mazej Kukovi? during the informal meeting of EU-27 health ministers on 17 April 2008. She particularly underlined the need to raise young people’s awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The ministers agreed on the need for an overall strategy and an action plan, which would encompass cancer prevention as well as early detection, treatment, rehabilitation, palliative care and research. The aim would be to reduce the burden of both cancer and other chronic diseases.
The Commission has been invited to prepare the cancer control action plan, which the Council wants to have a particular emphasis on prevention, as “at least one third of cancers can be prevented”.
Indeed, a recent WHO report on the causes of cancer argues that lifestyle is an important risk factor. According to the report, cigarettes remain the biggest cause of cancer, followed by alcohol consumption.
Kukovi?, reporting the results of the recent European Alcohol Policy Conference to the other ministers, agreed that alcohol was a significant risk factor for cancer as well as for many other chronic diseases and injuries.
According to the European Cancer Patient Coalition, more than 2.2 million new cases are diagnosed every year in the EU 25 and more than 1.1 million deaths a year can be attributed to the disease. In addition, the coalition warns that the number of Europeans with cancer is set to increase dramatically by 2015 due to the ageing population.
The current EU health policy approach to fight cancer focuses on primary and secondary prevention as well as on information to address lifestyle-related health determinants such as tobacco, alcohol, nutrition and physical activity. In addition to encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles to avoid cancer, the EU executive has also adopted a recommendation on cancer screening and funds a number of projects to develop a cancer surveillance system to gather comparable data on cancer occurrence and outcomes across Europe.
Slovenia has made combating cancer one of the top health priorities of its EU presidency. Based on the ministerial discussions of 17 April, conclusions will be submitted for adoption by the Council of Ministers meeting to take place in early June.