Planning cancer policies: today and tomorrow

Why is it that despite the progress in cancer treatment, inequalities in cancer survival continue to widen? What is the true value of personalised medicine and the future of genomics for public health and cancer outcomes?  How will EU Member States choose to reallocate their resources to those cancer care services which offer the best outcomes, while ensuring sustainable financing? 

These are just some of the challenging questions Ministries of Health, oncologists and patient representatives are trying to address through cancer care policy papers being prepared as part of the European Guide on Quality Improvement in Comprehensive Cancer Control, or CanCon for short. Once published, the guide will help further energise the debate on cancer care and, I hope, drive further, positive action on the ground. But I also know that, in and of itself, a single report can only achieve so much – real success will be an iterative process, achieved through continuous innovation in policy and service provision.  CanCon recognises this too, evidenced by their announcement earlier this month about the focus and progress of the five expert groups and their respective policy papers. These papers are dedicated to key themes with the objective to help position cancer control into the planning processes of EU member states.  

Recently released summaries of the CanCon policy papers provide a glimpse of the recommendations to come once the Guide is released next year. Lilly hopes the Guide will help lay the foundations for better joint action on cancer, and in particular, will address the following two key considerations:

1.       We need to keep the goal in mind

The danger here is that policy planners start looking into choices that could be made instead of choices that should be made. We can avoid such choices if we keep as our compass what the situation should be: the best possible outcomes for every cancer patient.

From preventative measures such as tobacco-free environments to the timely screening of breast cancer in women, we already know a lot about effective policies to address cancer. But each year brings new discoveries and new innovations that need to be reflected in public health policy. Keeping the goal -achieving the best possible outcomes for every cancer patient- in mind will help ensure the right, patient-centric, policies are prioritised.

2.       We need to ensure equity of access to care 

Any person hit with the very real blow of a cancer diagnosis should receive the highest quality of care possible, no matter the Member State they live in. This is not the case today. A key element of CanCon’s mission is to “focus on developing practical recommendations to embed equity actions within cancer prevention and control policies in Europe.”

To keep innovation and policy in step, health systems should not lose sight of the individual patient. Cancer care is successful when each and every patient benefits from the right care and treatment for them, and when every at-risk person benefits from preventive policies. Cancer care is not optimum when a minority of patients achieve excellent outcomes while the rest are left without a choice, because of budgetary or other considerations.

We are certain that the five expert groups are keeping these considerations top-of-mind when drafting the CanCon policy papers. CanCon is an impressive undertaking, but it is only the beginning. The success of the Guide will be judged not upon its release in Malta in February 2017, but in the years to come, as Member States take on board and implement its recommendations.