30 years of EU cancer policy

Birthdays and anniversaries are great things. They give us an excuse to celebrate what we have achieved so far, with the people that helped us get there. They also prompt us to reflect on what we want to achieve moving forward, and the direction we wish to take.

This is very much the philosophy behind an anniversary event taking place this month in Brussels. Both the European Commission and Luxembourg EU Presidency are hosting a multi-stakeholder conference to mark 30 years of EU action in cancer. What’s taken place over these 30 years to advance innovation and patient care in cancer has been the culmination of efforts by many at both the EU and national level.

Here’s a snapshot of the key EU initiatives launched over that period:

  • Starting back in 1985, when the Council agreed to launch a European action programme against cancer.
  • First published in 1987 and now in its fourth edition, the European Code Against Cancer outlines 12 recommendations on reducing your risk of cancer based on the most recent scientific evidence.
  • In 2009 the Commission Communication on Action Against Cancer: European Partnership committed is to reduce cancer incidence by 15% by 2020.
  • The EPAAC - European Partnership for Action Against Cancer (2009-2013) was also set up that same year to support Member States to tackle cancer more efficiently.
  • The culmination of these initiatives led to the creation in 2014 of Commission Expert Group on Cancer Control  and of the launch of the EU Joint Action on Cancer Control (CANCON Joint Action 2014-2017).

There are many more initiatives to mention at the EU level, from the European Parliament’s own MEPs Against Cancer (MAC) group through to specific guidelines on quality assurance in cervical cancer screening. We also have a total of 25 out of the 28 EU Member States with national cancer strategies. As we wrote previously, this sounds impressive, but implementation of plans and direct benefits for patients varies depending on the country, or region. What needs to happen next to improve cancer care for patients across Europe?

To help answer that question, the Expert Group on Cancer Control will meet during the same day of this celebration event to take stock of progress so far and to set an ambitious and meaningful roadmap for future EU cancer policy. As part of their role in advising the Commission, the experts will look into developing legal instruments, policies and data related to cancer control through to advancing international cooperation and exchange of information among EU Member States. They will also try to identify ways to enable implementation of policies at the member states, a critical point in making a difference for the individual patient and for cancer care systems.  Lilly’s medical director for oncology in Europe, Dr. Marjo Hahka-Kemppinen recently became a member of the European Commission’s Expert Group on Cancer Control, as a representative of Lilly and EuropaBio. Speaking on her new responsibility, Marjo stated, “As a key partner in the fight against cancer, the pharmaceutical industry continues to bring forward innovations in cancer care for patients. But this is only part of the answer. Policies are another, big part and we happily take up the responsibility to sit at the table and work with others on informing policies that aim to enable cancer patients to lead longer and healthier lives.”

It was just over 3 months ago that we took stock of developments in cancer policy on the occasion of the European Joint Action on Cancer (CanCon) conference. Back then, my colleague Andrew Oxtoby made a comment that I believe remains pertinent to this 30 year anniversary and as such, I wish to end on it:

“Innovation in cancer care requires also innovative policymaking. Innovation relies on collaboration from many people, from patients working closely with researchers to develop better treatments, to advocates and legislators collaborating to modernise policies that can speed the development of effective new medicines. By working together, we have seen that small steps make a big difference.”