EU cancer ‘partnership’ to focus on prevention

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A ‘European Partnership for Action against Cancer’ to be launched this autumn will aim to screen 100% of the population for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer by 2013, the European Commission announced.

The EU executive outlined the principles behind the new partnership on Wednesday (24 June), saying it hoped to bring together all relevant organisations working on cancer “to identify gaps, address needs and learn from each other”.

“In Europe, one in three people will develop cancer in their lifetime,” the Commission said in a statement. “This translates to 3.2 million people being diagnosed with the disease every year.”

The EU executive said the partnership aims to provide a framework for “sharing information, capacity and expertise in cancer prevention and control” across Europe in order to avoid duplication of work or scattered action. 

It aims to engage “a wide range of stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations, researchers, patients groups, industry and national authorities,” the Commission said.

Key priorities of the partnership, to be launched this autumn in Brussels, include promoting early detection of cancer and defining research priorities. 

The Health and Environment Alliance, an NGO, hailed the Commission’s initiative, saying it was “an important step forward in recognising the environmental dimension of cancer prevention”.

“Historically, prevention work has predominantly focused on changing lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption,” the HEAL said. But now, it claims the Commission is changing tack. “For the first time, the Commission officially acknowledges that cancer prevention should address lifestyle, occupational and environmental causes on an equal footing.”

“Many environmental factors, including carcinogenic chemicals, pesticides and particles in air pollution, contribute to cancer,” the HEAL said in a statement. “These cancers could be prevented by changes in policy to reduce people’s involuntary exposure to these chemical substances.”

Scientists are divided over the health impact of chemicals, with uncertainties remaining about the effects of low-level contamination in particular. Studies are ongoing to try to determine what level of chemical exposure can be considered safe (EURACTIV 01/12/08).

The European Chemicals Industry Council (Cefic) says blood tests that detect the presence of chemicals in people’s bodies only provide “a one-off measurement” and do not offer “any information on whether the levels vary over time or what the source of exposure was”. “On their own, these measurements do not provide enough information to determine risk or health effects,” Cefic says (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on ‘Biomonitoring’).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for more research into children’s exposure to chemicals, arguing that this may be the origin of cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory disease later in life (EURACTIV 27/08/07).

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