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Brussels, 22 January 2009

Europe needs to intensify and double cancer screening, concludes Commission report

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the European Union. Breast, cervical and colorectal cancer accounts for 32% of cancer deaths in women and 11% in men. With an ageing population, the figures are due to increase, unless preventive measures are taken to reduce cancer deaths. The European Union shares a common commitment to ensuring proper screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer, as set out in Council Recommendation of 2 December 2003 on cancer screening (2003/878/EC). In the first implementation report, the Commission highlights that although much progress has been made in the field of cancer screening, Member States have not fully put this screening in place. Less than half of the minimum recommended numbers of screenings take place in the EU each year. By providing a clear description of the situation and the gaps, this report helps to renew the commitment to put in place breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening as a crucial and cost-effective measure to reduce the burden of cancer in the European Union.

The European Commissioner for Health, Androulla Vassiliou, said: "In these times of financial uncertainty, we need to recognise, more than ever, the importance of planning for a healthy future. Investing in cancer screening programmes will pay long term dividends, as prevention is the most efficient and cost-effective way to minimise the european burden of cancer. "

The findings of the report

Although much progress has been made within the area of cancer screening, more is still required:

  • For breast cancer, only 22 Member States are running or establishing population-based screening programmes;
  • For cervical cancer, only 15 Member States are running or establishing population-based screening programmes;
  • For colorectal cancer, only 12 Member States. are running or establishing population-based screening programmes;

The current annual volume of screening examinations in the EU is considerable; however, this volume is less than one-half of the minimum annual number of examinations that would be expected if the screening tests specified in the Council Recommendation on cancer screening were available to all EU citizens of appropriate age (approximately 125 million examinations per year). 

Less than half of these examinations (41%) are performed in population-based programmes which provide the organisational framework for implementing comprehensive quality assurance as required by the Council Recommendation.

How do we increase the volume of screening in the EU?

  • Member States should continue to improve or implement population-based cancer screening programmes, supported by collaboration between Member States and professional, organisational and scientific bodies and experts.
  • Additional efforts must be made to improve and maintain high quality screening measures to assure the quality, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness on a Member State as well as EU level.
  • By providing a clear overview of the situation, this Report will encourage Member States to renew their efforts to fulfil the commitments laid down in the Recommendation.

What additional initiatives will the Commission undertake in order to combat cancer?

The Commission intends to form a European partnership for action against cancer in 2009 by bringing together relevant stakeholders across the EU in a collective effort to addressing cancer. The partnership will support Member States in their efforts to tackle cancer more effectively. Key areas for future cancer activities include:

  • Heath information, collection and analysis of comparable data;
  • Primary prevention;
  • Identification and promotion of good practice in cancer-related healthcare:
  • Priorities for cancer research.

The Report on the Implementation of the Council Recommendation of 2 December 2003 on cancer screening:

The Council Recommendation of 2 December 2003 on cancer screening:

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