On the 30th anniversary of the first action taken in the fight against cancer, an official ceremony, entitled "30 years of EU action against cancer" and organised jointly by the European Commission and the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU, was held in Luxembourg on 15 September 2015. This event, attended by the Minister for Health, Lydia Mutsch, and the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, provided an opportunity for numerous invited specialists to assess the successes achieved and to debate the future action to be taken within this context.
During a press conference organised ahead of the meeting, Lydia Mutsch pointed out that, since the European Council's decision to launch a programme of community action against cancer in 1985, the fight against this disease had become "a priority for European public health policy". This decision "has added a new dimension to the fight" and created "a stronger link between Europe and the concerns of its citizens", she said.
According to the Minister, the recorded successes in this area show that, even if health remains a national responsibility for each Member State, "it is evident that joint European action can create considerable added value by confronting the major challenges for health in a more efficient way". Regarding this matter, Lydia Mutsch referred specifically to the sharing of information and the exchange of best practices and experience which were sparked by this decision, of which Luxembourg was "a keen supporter". "Common European action and a joint approach can, in effect, help to avoid ineffective action or the duplication of roles. It can also encourage better use of available resources", she added.
Cancer remains one of the major concerns for public health
Lydia Mutsch further emphasised that cancer is the second most common cause of death in the European Union (EU) and that this figure will keep on rising due to an ageing population. Since 2010, cancer has been the main cause of death, ahead of cardiovascular disease, among men in Luxembourg, she explained. Among women, it remains the second most common cause. "Since 1992, the Grand Duchy has been implementing a national screening programme for breast cancer for women aged between 50 and 69, based on European guidelines. Thanks to this programme, early detection has increased from 9 to around 70% among the target group", the Minister continued.
According to estimates, nearly one third of cancer cases could be prevented by adopting healthier lifestyles and by avoiding the major risk factors. In this regard, Lydia Mutsch stressed that "for Luxembourg, horizontal action on major health factors is a priority, just like the programmes and inter-ministerial action strategies in the area of food and physical activity, in the fight against tobacco and alcohol".
Lydia Mutsch mentioned the National Plan for the fight against cancer 2014-2018, adopted in July 2014 by the Luxembourg government. This includes 73 different actions covering the sectors of governance, health promotion, prevention and early detection, diagnosis, treatment, support and rehabilitation, health resources, patients' rights and research, she said.
Prevention policies and access to early diagnosis are crucial
The European Commissioner for Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis, welcomed the European programme against cancer, stating it was "very important and personal" for him. "When it was created, I was already a practising doctor, and I remember that my colleagues were able, from then on, to cross borders to other European capitals, meet scientists, learn and cooperate", he said. One of the major successes of this policy was the creation of the European Code against Cancer in 1987, which has been updated continuously ever since. "The Code remains a key component in the efforts to make citizens aware of prevention and early screening for cancer", emphasised Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Around 1.4 million new cases are reported every year among men in the EU, and nearly 1.2 million for women. The Commissioner stated that it was imperative "to continue to reduce these figures". Pointing out that European action on the fight against cancer has focused "primarily on prevention, screening and checks", he also stated that preventative policies and access to early diagnosis were "crucial". "They can completely change someone's life", Vytenis Andriukaitis continued.
Furthermore, the Commissioner mentioned the Commission communication against cancer from 2009, which provides an "ambitious" objective for reducing the prevalence of cancer by 15% from now until 2020. "We estimate that the main incidences of cancer within the EU have been reduced by 10% over the past ten years, which will enable us to keep to this objective", he said. He also mentioned the European Cancer Information System, which will provide epidemiological data "in the most harmonised way possible" and which should be operational in 2016.
Vytenis Andriukaitis also called for the "full use" of new technologies within this context, thereby benefiting from telemedicine and e-health for the prevention and treatment of cancer and encouraging the use of innovative therapies. The Commissioner stressed that "we need to develop a cancer register".