With cancer set to become the leading cause of death in the EU, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is certainly timely. The EESC welcomes this plan which is a milestone in the fight against cancer and its social, financial and psychological impact on EU citizens. However, unresolved forms of regional and social inequality mean that there is still room for improvement.
25% of the global cancer burden falls on Europeans, and so it is high time that we all work together to defeat this disease. The EESC strongly supports the Commission's new EUR 4 billion plan to fund action on cancer, the first strategy document since 1990 to focus on the fight against cancer.
The EU needs a new Marshall Plan for Oncology and this is a step in the right direction. We must not waste this chance, stressed Małgorzata Anna Bogusz, rapporteur for the EESC's opinion on Europe's beating cancer plan.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the need for an effective and innovative cancer plan: with healthcare systems focusing on COVID-19, there were inevitably massive delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment. As Ms Bogusz points out,
We must address COVID-induced disruption in order to prevent a cancer tsunami.
The plan deserves praise for its multifaceted and innovative approach to tackling cancer, emphasising research, state-of-the art technologies and equal access to the best possible care for all Europeans.
The plan is fit for purpose as it covers many key aspects of the fight against cancer, said Milena Angelova, co-rapporteur for the opinion.
Nevertheless, the EESC feels that a roadmap is needed, with performance indicators, realistic timeframes and a strong role for the social partners and civil society organisations. High-quality, accessible healthcare infrastructure and effective support systems for patients' physical and mental well-being are also crucial.
Cancer: a very unequal disease
Cancer mortality and morbidity are correlated with the type of cancer and the patient's location and social gradient. We therefore need to focus on regional infrastructure disparities and social imbalances in terms of employment and gender.
The EESC encourages the Member States to be proactive in the fight against cancer, organising national screening and vaccination programmes as well as support schemes.
It also emphasises the need for effective prevention of occupational forms of cancer, calling for more research into exposure to carcinogens, mutagens and endocrine disruptors and the causes of occupational cancer, particularly in women.
Cancer cannot be beaten if part of the process is overlooked and the success of the action plan is dependent on high-quality treatment and equal care for all Europeans.
Ms Bogusz's key message is this:
A patchwork approach to cancer simply will not work: every region, every social group and every form of cancer must be tackled uniformly.
Last but not least, the social partners and civil society organisations play a key role when it comes to raising awareness and promoting healthy lifestyle campaigns. People need to be reminded constantly that they must act to prevent and detect cancer as early as possible.
Europe's Beating Cancer Plan is a major opportunity to prolong life expectancy and help those diagnosed with cancer.