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Patient at screening
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/U. Anspach

World Cancer Day: EU to launch new plan to fight cancer

Kristie Pladson
February 4, 2020

To mark World Cancer Day, the European Commission has announced it's to launch a new initiative to fight cancer in the EU by the end of the year. Cancer is behind 26% of deaths in the bloc every year.


'Screening is life-saving'

For World Cancer Day on Tuesday, political leaders met with healthcare professionals and advocates at the European Commission to announce the launch of the "Europe's Beating Cancer" plan, Europe's latest initiative in the fight against cancer.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that the bloc will present a comprehensive action plan by the end of 2020, aimed at stopping cancer deaths in the EU by 2040.

"This is our goal. We have to step up and work hard for it. But there's a lot of things we can do together," she said. 

Three-pronged approach

In an exclusive interview with DW, von der Leyen outlined a three-pronged approach to the plan, which includes stepping up early prevention efforts and expanding the European budget to boost investment in medical technologies.

"The 'Horizon Europe' program can contribute massively to developing these modern technologies," she told DW. 

The third pillar of the initiative, she said, is increasing access to screening and early detection measures. 

"We know for example that 15,000 women per year are dying of cervical cancer in the European Union. Part of these deaths could have been prevented if there had been early screening and access to vaccination," said von der Leyen.

At the launch event, she touted the use of artificial intelligence as a technology that could improve early detection measures, and stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 

The first step of the plan is to consult doctors, scientists, patients, advocacy groups and political leaders to identify goals and methods, before rolling out concrete proposals later this year. 

Around 1.6 million people died of cancer in the bloc in 2016, according to data shared by EU statistics agency Destatis on Tuesday, accounting for 26% of all EU deaths.

Read more: Zero gravity kills cancer cells

However, survival rates vary widely across the EU. "A woman with cervical cancer who lives in Romania is 16 times more likely to die than a woman who lives in Italy," she said at Tuesday's event. "This is not sustainable, and it is not right."

The plan is also personal to the commission chief, who lost her sister to cancer as a child. "I was 13 years old when my little sister died of a reticulo sarcoma. She was only 11 years old. And there was nothing my family nor the doctors could do to save her life." The experience, she said, influenced her decision to become a doctor. 

"I studied medicine to help others overcome sadness and helplessness," she wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. "Today cancer survival rates are increasing, but still so much to do."

Lung cancer was the most prevalent cancer among men while breast cancer was the biggest concern for women. Proportionally, more men were killed by cancer than women.

Hungary has the highest rate of cancer fatalities in the EU, with 345 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Cyprus has the lowest rate, at 194 per 100,000.

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lc/ng (Reuters, dpa)

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