Brussels, 14 September 2007
Although European citizens appear to be generally aware of the importance of preventive medical checkups, the vast majority of them do not undergo colorectal cancer or prostate tests, an EU wide survey reveals. The Eurobarometer on "Health in the European Union," published today, which marks the European Prostate Awareness Day, indicates that only 13% of European men took the Prostate Specific Antigen Tests and only 8% of all respondents the colorectal cancer test. The survey also reveals that, in general, Europeans are aware of the importance of preventive check ups as more than six out of ten carry out dental tests and almost four out of ten get their eyes checked every year. According to the Eurobarometer, a sizeable majority of EU citizens consider themselves to be in good health. In fact, less than one in ten (7%) say that their health is bad or very bad.
Commenting on the EB's findings and, in particular, the references to colorectal cancer and prostate check ups, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "It is necessary to improve awareness about prostate and colorectal cancer. Men should consult their doctors about regular screenings. The check-up data for these two types of cancer are alarming. It is, therefore, not enough simply to remind people or urge them to undergo tests. Strong incentives should be built into any campaigns or programmes designed for this purpose. A Commission Communication on Cancer will be submitted to the Member States in 2008 with proposals on how to address this situation."
Testing for Colorectal cancer is most common in Germany, where 19% of those surveyed were tested during the year preceding the survey. This figure is more than twice as high as the EU average (8%) and this is largely due to respondents undergoing these tests on their own initiative (10% in Germany vs. 3% at EU level). High figures are also seen in Austria, where 17% undergo this test annually. On the other side of the scale, the EB notes that only 1% of Cypriots took the test, while low figures are also seen in Slovenia, Romania and Croatia (all 2%).
Austria is also faring well regarding prostate tests. Twelve percent of Austrian males surveyed said they received the test as part of a national screening programme, a figure six times higher than the EU rate of 2%. Overall, 28% of Austrian men take this test annually, compared to 13% at EU level. High figures are once more evident amongst German men (21%), although only 2% had this as part of a screening programme. The lowest figures are seen in Bulgaria and Romania (3%), as well as Estonia (4%).
Not all is bad
The situation regarding general health check-ups is much better. More than six out of every ten (62%) respondents have a dental examination each year and almost four out of ten (35%) undergo eye tests.
For other, more specific tests, we see that a high percentage take an X-ray, ultrasound or other scan each year. This has risen by five percentage points since 2003 (from 33% to 38%), with the impetus for this rise coming from more referrals by doctors. Variable rates were seen by country for cancer testing rates, with a relatively large proportion of Austrians taking these tests, mostly as part of a national screening programme.
The EB examines the issue of women's health in particular detail. Here there are encouraging signs of a high take-up rate for testing. For example, 43% of all women underwent a manual breast examination. Again, it is notable that testing rates were especially high in Austria. However, health inequalities are evident, with examinations being more frequent amongst better educated and employed women.
Blood pressure and cholesterol
Blood pressure tests are considerably more common amongst the oldest segment of the population. Of respondents aged 55 or over, almost eight out of every ten (79%) underwent the test during the year preceding the collection of data for this Eurobarometer. This is over two times higher than the proportion of respondents aged between 15 and 24 who had a blood pressure test (36%). More women than men take a blood pressure test each year (62% vs. 55%).
Encouragingly, nearly six out of every ten (59%) Europeans have their blood pressure measured each year, an increase of nine percentage points from figures reported in 2003. Testing and detection is only one side of the equation however, and once high blood pressure is discovered, lifestyle changes on the part of the patient are essential. Here it is seen that of those for whom hypertension is a factor in long-term treatment, only half say they modified their lifestyle in order to lower their blood pressure.
Almost four out of ten (38%) said they had a cholesterol test. As with blood-pressure testing, this figure represents a considerable increase (29%) since the last set of results published in 2003.
As is the case for blood pressure testing, we see a significantly higher level of cholesterol testing amongst the older segment of the population. Six times as many of those aged 55 and above took a cholesterol test compared to respondents aged between 15 and 24.
We think we're healthy
Most EU citizens consider themselves to be in good health. In fact, less than one in ten (7%) say that their health is bad or very bad. However, within this figure we do see some evidence of health inequalities with twice as many of the least educated group (14%) saying they have bad health.
About three in every ten Europeans (29%) have a long-standing illness or
health problem – up from the 24% in 2005. Increases in this figure were
witnessed in many of the Mediterranean countries. However, the trend is not
upwards in all countries, and in particular there is evidence of a decrease in
the proportion of long-term ill in the Nordic countries (for example, a fall of
-7 % in Denmark).