(Source: European Commission)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you to all colleagues and friends who are here with us today to support us to shine a light on the need to keep the work to address cancer at the top of everyone’s agenda.
When I took office as Commissioner two years ago, one of the first main initiatives I put in motion was Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Last year we delivered this Plan that is now charting the course of our work.
Today, we will emphasise the importance of ensuring equal and easy access to prevention and care for everyone, no matter who they are or where they live.
We will in particular focus on Europe’s women and the importance of raising awareness of cancers that affect them, such as breast cancer, along with gynaecologic cancers such as cervical cancer and ovarian cancer.
President von der Leyen‘s message highlighted how taking robust action along the entire cancer pathway is a top priority for us. This is why we have our Cancer Plan – and why we intend to make it work for all Europeans, leaving no one behind.
I would like to thank President von der Leyen for her personal investment in our work on cancer.
I would also like to thank Icó Tóth and Christiane Amanpour for sharing their personal experiences with cervical and ovarian cancer. As we are all aware, talking about cancer, even with those closest to us, can often be a difficult experience. So doing so in public is truly inspiring and moving.
Too many women in the EU are affected by women’s cancers.
Breast cancer accounted for 355 000 new cancer cases in women in 2020. This makes it the most frequently occurring cancer.
At EU level, we have the European Commission Initiative on Breast Cancer in place. Last year, we launched new European Guidelines on Screening and Diagnosis and a Quality Assurance Scheme covering the entire breast cancer care pathway.
As for cervical cancer, estimates for 2020 predict around 30 000 new cases, with over 13 000 women losing their lives from the disease.
In response, mirroring our work on breast cancer, we will start developing European Guidelines and a Quality Assurance Scheme also for Cervical Cancer Screening, Diagnosis and Care.
These guidelines will support us to ensure top-quality and the most up-to-date procedures for screening and care. These are very concrete and practical examples of our work to help improve outcomes for citizens and patients in Europe.
Unfortunately, looking ahead, the challenges we are facing are far greater than two years ago when we embarked on this journey together.
Two years of living with COVID-19 have been exceptional and unprecedented, for everyone and in every possible way.
In 2020 and 2021 the European Network of Cancer Registries, together with the Joint Research Centre analysed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer in Europe, focusing on changes in cancer detection and treatment.
They found that cancer screening programmes were mostly stopped or slowed down in most regions covered.
COVID-19’s impact on cancer has clearly highlighted the crucial importance of contingency planning for the continuity of cancer care in future crises.
At the same time, it has shone a light on the tendency to under-finance and under-prioritise our health care systems. We now need to urgently address the backlog and ensure we catch up.
This is why Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is placing cancer – including cancer in women – a the top of the list of priorities, with policy actions, research efforts and unprecedented funding.
It is the first time that the EU has such an ambitious, broad, inclusive and well-funded Plan to address cancer.
Let me give you some specific examples:
Regardless of progress in cancer treatment or scientific revolutions, prevention will always be better than cure. And there is still a lot we can do to inform people about the most common risk factors and the simple every day gestures they can take to avoid them.
This is why we will update the European Code against Cancer and extend its reach to reinforce knowledge for citizens across Europe.
We are also working intensively to update our Recommendation on cancer screening this year. To do so, we will rely on scientific excellence on how to improve screening programmes, including on breast and cervical cancer to make sure we get this right. I’m delighted to announce today that we have launched a call for evidence to support this work and to complement the advice from our Group of Chief Scientific Advisors.
One of our main goals of the Plan is to improve access to quality-assured diagnostics and treatments. We need to ensure that patients across the EU, whether they live in big or small Member States, can benefit from the collective expertise of our cancer specialists.
End of last year we launched the EU Network linking National Comprehensive Cancer Centres, a Flagship initiative which will enable countries to work together to, for example, treat patients with complex conditions.
Linked to this is the fact that high-quality cancer care relies on a high quality cancer care workforce. This is why a new Inter-speciality cancer training programme will bring the different cancer community sectors closer together and make cancer care more joined-up.
When it comes to quality of life, I made very clear when launching the Plan that social integration is key. So I’m very pleased that we will very soon present a report on fair access for cancer survivors to financial services to guide our work on this important issue further.
These are just some examples of the work under the Plan so far. Overall last year, we launched 12 action grants and 4 joint actions under the EU4Health programme and a significant number of actions will come this year.
And today, I am happy to announce the launch of a number of new actions to deliver on the ambitions of the Plan.
In her message, the President already announced two of them: the Cancer Inequalities Registry and the Joint Action on HPV vaccination.
We need to know what the inequalities in the EU consist of and who they affect and where in order to address them, and the Registry will be crucial for us to do so. And when it comes to HPV vaccination, real-world data shows that we can cut the number of cases by 90%.
We aim to vaccinate against HPV at least 90% of the EU target population of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030.
Today I can also announce that we are launching the EU Network of Youth Cancer Survivors. Cancer is unfortunately the main cause of death by disease in children beyond the age of one. Young patients need comprehensive care, treatment and follow-up to make a good recovery and enjoy the best possible quality of life.
With this Network, we will connect young cancer survivors and their families, as well as social and health professionals active in cancer prevention and care across the EU.
Looking ahead, in 2022 we will continue to push forward our work on prevention, including with proposals that will support our efforts to achieve a tobacco free Europe and improve prevention through healthy diets, physical activity and clearer food labelling as well as reducing the exposure to hazardous substances. We will also push forward our work on new technologies and digital solutions as well as improving the standards of care in the EU.
Our work as a team to enable the Cancer Plan to fulfil its ambitions – and our citizens’ expectations – goes on.
We have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.
Before that, here and now, I look forward to the remaining presentations and panel debates today.
Thank you once more for being here in this event, to make a difference against cancer across Europe.