EU expert group recommends Commission to step up cancer screening

ccording to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in Europe lung, breast, stomach, liver and colon cancers cause the most deaths each year. [Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock]

The EU’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisers (GCSA) has issued scientific advice to the Commission to strengthen its plan to fight cancer in Europe. The priority, they say, is to extend screening to other different kinds of cancer.

The GCSA comprises seven scientists who provide independent recommendations to improve the exchange between policy-making and scientific advice at the European level.

In their new opinion released on Wednesday (2 March), GCSA scientists issued a series of recommendations for combating cancer in Europe, highlighting the need to improve existing screening programmes for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer.

“The advice of the Chief Scientific Advisors will support our update of guidelines for cancer screening in the EU with the most up-to-date scientific knowledge, delivering the best possible outcomes for all Europeans,” said Stella Kyriakides, DG HEALTH at the Commission in an online press release.

Most importantly, the scientists advocate extending screening programmes to lung and prostate cancer while also making them more accessible to increase the participation rate of European citizens.

According to scientists, cancer is usually diagnosed in patients who already have symptoms, or it is discovered during medical tests for other diseases.

“Population-based screenings are major tools to help detect cancer early, which in turn gives the best chances of survival,” said Professor Eva Kondorosi, one of the members of the GCSA.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in Europe, lung, breast, stomach, liver and colon cancers cause the most deaths each year. WHO recommends working on early detection through early diagnosis and screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer.

“Participation to existing screening programmes for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer should be improved, also considering individual risk factors and with the help of emerging technologies,” Kondorosi said, adding that screening programmes should be extended to include lung and prostate cancer as well.

According to the GCSA experts, there is an equal need to advance research and innovation to make screening more effective.

“Research and innovation advance our understanding of all phases of cancer and pave the way to improve diagnosis, treatment and care interventions. This Scientific Opinion provides key insights and recommendations and it thus contributes significantly to this goal,” said Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth.

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European plan to beat cancer

The opinion comes as the Commission is due to present by the end of 2022 the conclusions of its European plan to beat cancer, which was launched on 3 February 2021 on World Cancer Day.

“This Plan is unique because it is based on a ‘health in all policies’ approach, pooling all strings together under a common goal, beating cancer,” said European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas at the time.

“Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan has a strong focus on research and innovation as the starting point towards a new approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care. Early detection is a cornerstone of our Plan, and screening is a crucial part of this”, said Kyriakides on Wednesday.

The Commission’s plan is part of the measures to strengthen the European Health Union and is based in particular on the recommendations of the own-initiative report by the Parliament’s special committee on cancer control, the BECA committee.

MEPs on Wednesday adopted by a large majority the report of the BECA committee, which has been working for nearly 15 months to lay a solid foundation for eradicating cancer in Europe.

The own-initiative report examines several areas such as diet, endocrine disruptors, air pollution, alcohol and tobacco and recommends that more emphasis be placed on prevention.

By 2035, cancer could become the leading cause of death in Europe, but it could be avoided in 40% of cases through better prevention and screening, said BECA rapporteur Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (Renew).

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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