Cancer is a word that carries more weight and more meaning than many other words. It is a word that 40% of us will hear at some point in our lives when asked to take a seat in a doctor’s office. It is the source of many feelings and emotions. Of sadness, anxiety, anger, or even hopelessness.
A cancer diagnosis does not only affect the person with cancer, it also affects families and family relations, friends and friendships. Across society, from children to pensioners, women and men, rich and poor – no one is immune from potentially facing the battle against this disease. I myself am one of those persons who sat in that room and heard that word – three times.
Working to reduce the suffering of cancer in Europe is one of my most important responsibilities as European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety and one of the top priorities for the von der Leyen Commission in the area of health.
Numbers speak for themselves, but they do not tell the whole story. With overall cancer cases expected to double by 2035, cancer is on its way to become the first cause of death in the EU. In 2018 alone, 3 million new cancer cases were diagnosed. Unless we act decisively, its impact on our families, our health systems and our economies will continue to grow. We need to turn this alarming trend around. We must strive for more.
A Europe that strives for more is a Europe that listens to its citizens, that cares for their wellbeing and that takes decisive action where they expect us to do so. Cancer is one of these areas. It is a concrete example of what Europe can tangibly do for its citizens, and most importantly, what Europe can and will do together with its citizens.
For me, our work on cancer must be a collective, joint effort. I believe that we have an enormous capacity for change, but only if we join our forces, from policy makers to medical professionals from patient representatives to industry, and most importantly with our citizens.
I will give everyone a seat at the table and an opportunity to contribute with expertise, knowledge and experience to our work to shape Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan before we present it later this year. Before taking any decisions, my first step will be to listen carefully.
On 4 February, which marked World Cancer Day, I launched this process and started an inclusive EU wide discussion with citizens and stakeholders. I would now like to see everyone concerned sharing their views and ideas on what the best way forward would be, and what Europe can and should do to bring about positive change for cancer patients, survivors, families and to reduce the important impact of cancer on our societies, health systems and economies.
When addressing cancer, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. That is why we need to look beyond mere numbers. With Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, we will look at all dimensions of the issue, from the food we eat, the accessibility of medicines, the right care, the right technology and the involvement of sectors and industries beyond the health sector, including education, environment, agriculture and research. We will take action at all stages of the disease, from prevention to detection, treatment, cure and palliative care.
Today, we know that up to 40% of cancer cases are preventable. That figure fills me with frustration. But it also gives me optimism and determination. The potential to save lives is immense. Tackling cancer means acknowledging and drawing attention to the fact that our lifestyle choices play a significant role when it comes to preventing a cancer diagnosis.
On the vital issue of detection, scientific evidence is clear: early diagnosis saves lives. Today, not all Member States have national screening programs for cancer. This is not acceptable. We need to do much more to raise awareness about cancer screening and improve early cancer diagnosis across the EU.
We also need to ensure that all cancer patients have the fundamental right to optimal care, the same access to medicine and innovative treatments. I have held many discussions recently on how Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan could address inequalities. It is unacceptable in a European Union that seeks to represent all of its citizens that access to care is not equal for all – whatever the circumstances.
Through the Plan, we will also work to ensure that cancer patients, survivors and their families receive the support they deserve and need to face the transition back to normal life. And we need to challenge any associated stigma or discrimination that might add to their suffering, including when returning to work.
As we start this journey, I invite everyone to join and engage closely over the coming months. There is only one way to be truly effective in fighting cancer and ensure that fewer of us walk into that doctor’s office and hear that word: making it a common, European endeavour. Together we can make a difference.