Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

Brussels, 20 September 2022

“Check against delivery”

Ladies and gentlemen,

When we presented Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan on the eve of World Cancer Day in February 2021, one of our Flagship actions was to put forward an EU Cancer Screening Scheme with the clear ambition to save lives, and to prolong lives by improving detection.

Today, we are delivering on the main pillar of this Scheme: new up-to-date EU Screening Recommendations, as announced by President von der Leyen in her letter of intent accompanying the 2021 State of the Union speech.

These past almost 3 years with COVID has showed us how fragile our every-day life can be. It has shown us the value of our health, which we often take for granted.

In 2020, during the first year with COVID, we lost around 420 000 lives to this virus. In the same year, in 2020, cancer took almost 3 times as many, 1.3 million lives. These are not just numbers or statistics. Behind these numbers are personal stories, families, friends.

Today we know that it is estimated that one in two EU citizens will develop cancer during their lifetime.

With COVID-19, now as a backdrop our actions have become even more urgent. It is a fact that, during the pandemic, in most of the EU, cancer screening programmes largely stopped or slowed down. An estimated 100 million cancer screening tests were not performed in Europe during the pandemic.

We need to act NOW! Because unless we act now, cancer will become the leading cause of death in the EU by 2035.

To change this trend, we need to turn the phrase early diagnosis saves lives into actions.

We need to screen more, and we need to screen better.

To do so, today, we are presenting a new approach on cancer screening in the EU.

20 years have passed since the current screening recommendations were adopted in 2003. Medicine and technology have made incredible advances in the last 20 years.

Today is a turning point for cancer screening in the EU, with a new Recommendation based on the most recent developments and scientific findings.

We aim to ensure that we deliver on our ambitious commitment under the Cancer plan to ensure that 90% of people in the EU who qualify for breast, cervical and colorectal screenings are offered such screening by 2025.

Today, there are still truly unacceptable inequalities when it comes to screening, with for example the coverage of the target population ranges from 6% to 90% for breast cancer screening and from 20% to 70% for colorectal cancer screening.

Today, we are adding 3 new cancer sites to our screening recommendations.

We are proposing a step-by-step approach to introducing prostate, lung, and gastric cancer testing.

With these updates, we are covering 6 cancer sites that together account for almost 55% of all new cancer estimated to be diagnosed in the EU every year and which causes over 50% of deaths related to cancer.

More specifically, we propose broadening breast cancer screening for women aged 50 to 69 to now include women aged 45-74. Additionally, we recommend magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) for those women with very dense breasts.

Today, we are recommending that Human Papillomavirus (HPV) testing should take place for women aged 30 to 65, every 5 years or more, to detect cervical cancer, instead of PAP smear screening.

For colorectal cancer, the Recommendation will introduce triage testing in people aged 50-74 through faecal immunochemical testing to determine follow-up via endoscopy and colonoscopy.

On the three new cancer sites we are:

  • Extending screening programmes to lung cancer for current heavy and ex-smokers aged 50-75. These are already taking place in some Member States.
  • Secondly, we are recommending making available prostate specific antigen testing for prostate cancer in men up to 70, plus Magnetic Resonance Imaging for follow-up.
  • And finally, we also recommend screening in places with high gastric cancer incidence and death rates.

In health, equal access is a fundamental right.

Thus, two key principles underpinning our new Recommendation are equal access and quality of screening.

On accessibility, it is crucial to ensure that vulnerable groups, persons with disabilities or those living in remote areas have access to screening services. Our Cancer equality register will give us a better view on what already exists and what actions we need to take.

To help do so, we will soon be launching a communications campaign to raise awareness among adults from disadvantaged parts of the population of the need for and benefits of cancer screening.

When it comes to quality of screening, we will update existing guidelines and develop new ones for the new cancers we are targeting. Population screening programmes need to follow evidence-based guidelines and have quality control.

Systematic monitoring system and exchange of data are crucial to ensure quality control. We are requesting from Member States to report on the Recommendation three years after the adoption, and then every four years.

Expanding screening populations and rolling out organised screening programmes for additional cancers will require change and investment.

And this is an investment that we will help supporting. A total of around €100 million will be made available from the EU4Health programme and Horizon Europe.

And we will propose additional funding under the 2023 EU4Health programme.

In addition, Member States can also use funds allocated under the Cohesion Policy, notably the Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund Plus, to co-finance part of the necessary investments and expenditure.

Cancer screening saves lives. We can speak of cure following early detection in some cancers. It is additionally an investment as it will lead to lower health costs.

I count on Member States to adopt the Recommendation in the Council by December this year and support us delivering of the ultimate ambition of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, to turn the tide against cancer.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 2003, almost 20 years ago, it was a watershed moment when the Council Screening Recommendations were adopted.

Today, almost 20 years later, we are through a unique Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan putting forward our proposal.

Very few have been untouched by cancer – either personnally, in their families, friends.

We know that early diagnosis can save lives.

This is our watershed moment in 2022, and we can make a difference.

Thank you very much.

Source – EU Commission

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