Too many disparities in cancer treatment remain within the EU, say MEPs

The EU's ambitious plans to beat cancer would be complemented by taking greater account of how complementary therapies can improve quality of life alongside medical treatment, panellists argued at a EURACTIV event on ‘Integrative oncology’. [goodbishop/Shutterstock]

Disparities in the access to cancer treatment persist across the EU with differences in survival up to 25% for the same disease and at the same stage of illness between different member states, European lawmakers have warned.

Seven MEPs from the Parliament’s special committee on beating cancer (BECA) visited Geneva and Lyon on 3 and 4 November to discuss inequalities in access to prevention and treatment in different European countries.

They met with researchers, academics, and health professionals to assess the needs of cancer patients and the health care workers working alongside them.

In 2020, 2.7 million people in Europe had cancer while 1.3 million people died from it.

EURACTIV was in Lyon where the chair of BECA committee Bartosz Arłukowicz and the rapporteur of the beating cancer dossier at the European Parliament Véronique Trillet-Lenoir visited the headquarters of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to exchange views with professionals in the sector.

French liberal Trillet-Lenoir published in July her own-initiative report proposing concrete measures for the EU to help member states in the fight against cancer.

Her proposals include increasing European competencies on prevention, which still has major inequalities of access, and by making research funding fair so that it benefits everyone.

It is also necessary to take action on unequally treated rare cancers such as paediatric cancers which cause 6,000 death per year in Europe, a situation that Trillet-Lenoir described as unacceptable.

For the centre-right Polish MEP Arłukowicz, there is a need for more cooperation on cancer at the European level to tackle this divide between countries. He stressed that no difference in treatment based on the location of patients should be tolerated.

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Cancer control still a national competence

Inequalities in the prevention and treatment of cancer disease are considered a priority and the common thread of Europe’s Beating Cancer plan, unveiled by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in November 2020.

The EU’s cancer plan focuses on four areas – prevention, early detection, treatment and improving quality of life, and it is considered a key element of the European Health Union, the EU’s plan for healthcare after the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, treating cancer remains mainly a national competence.

“But the EU can act and so can the member states. We will have to help them with recommendations and principles and make sure that these recommendations are implemented”, the two MEPs said in a press conference after the visit.

These recommendations include better quality of care, as well as better coordination between large and small health centres and more accreditation of health institutions authorised to provide cancer care.

“These are national prerogatives of the member states, but we will have to encourage them with subsidies and help them to implement these recommendations,” the lawmakers stressed.

Another topic discussed in the morning at the Hospices Civils de Lyon (HCL) on Thursday (4 November) was the EU4Health programme presented by the Commission last March.

In terms of the fight against cancer, the EU4Health programme is a good start, but not enough, says Arlukowicz.

This programme is designed to strengthen the resilience of health systems, increase coordination on public health and enhance crisis management and has a budget of €5.1 billion, of which about €1.25 billion will be dedicated to cancer.

“Oncology is an expensive and rapidly evolving sector. It requires funding. We welcome the budget allocated by the EU4Health programme to the fight against cancer in Europe, but it is still too little”, explained Arlukowicz, who is a paediatrician and former health minister of Poland.

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[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna]

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