Tue. Oct 4th, 2022

Brussels, 19 September 2022

“Check against delivery”

Deputy Prime Minister Vandenbroucke, Secretary-General Moykens, Mr Michils, Mr Luts,

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

My thanks to Rob Heirbaut for his kind introduction, and to Stand up to Cancer for the kind invitation to be with you today. And thank you Tim for the thoughtful gift, on behalf of the Adolescents and Young Adults Movement.

Stand up to Cancer and organisations like them play a central role in improving care for adolescents and young people. It’s a role that we value, and that we need more than ever. I say this because adolescents and young adults with cancer experience age-specific medical issues.

These include a high incidence of rare paediatric tumours, delayed effects after treatment, and a risk of infertility. They may require an age-specific tumour biology and therapy response.

But that’s not all: they also experience age-specific psychosocial needs, such as psychological and identity issues, problems around returning to school or work, sexual problems, and social isolation. Some 1700 young people in Belgium aged 16 to 35 are diagnosed with cancer every year.

That’s why a care programme like Adolescents and Young adults with Cancer at Ghent University Hospital is worth its weight in gold. It’s the first of its kind in Belgium and receives financial support from Stand up to Cancer.

I was delighted to meet and chat with the dedicated staff during my visit to the hospital in July. It gave me the chance to see for myself how motivated and skilled professionals are meeting the specific needs of cancer patients and providing access to patient driven care and treatment. This is, very rightly so, one of the strategic goals in Stand up to Cancer’s Future Plan for 2022-2026.

As an adult breast cancer survivor, I found meeting young cancer survivors and hearing their stories and experiences particularly moving.

I also had the opportunity to explain (to Tim, Cato, Jasper, Anneke and Jérôme) how tackling cancer remains a top priority for us. To say that Europe is there for them and their families.

That’s why we’ve put Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan in motion. The Plan is our renewed commitment to cancer prevention, treatment and care. It recognises the growing challenges and harnesses the opportunities we have to overcome them.

It’s the first time that the EU has put in place such a broad, inclusive and well-funded Plan to address cancer. With the U.S. Cancer Moonshot Initiative, that President Biden relaunched this year, it is one of the two most comprehensive plans against cancer currently existing.

To deliver real progress and ensure lasting change for cancer patients and survivors on the ground, we’ve earmarked a total of EUR 4 billion.

To match that ambitious funding, we all share an ambitious joint commitment to make the Plan a success.

We’re working closely on the Plan with Belgium and all EU Member States, who bear the main responsibility for action on cancer.

We’re also working closely with stakeholders – including,  of course, Stand up to Cancer.

This is because we all recognise how crucial it is for medical professionals, patient advocates and policymakers to ensure, together, that every patient has high-quality care and treatment, with equal access to the full range of professionals, treatments and medicines. This in particular for persons in vulnerable situations, and underlined by Stand up Against Cancers future plan.

I’m proud to say that, since we adopted the Cancer Plan eighteen months ago, we’ve made considerable progress right along the line: from prevention and early detection to treatment and quality of life for patients and survivors.

We’re clearly delivering what we’ve promised.

  • When it comes to research and innovation, we now have the first EU Knowledge Centre on Cancer up and running to facilitate the coordination of scientific and technical cancer-related initiatives at EU level.
  • To improve standards of care in the EU, the work has started to establish an EU Network linking National Comprehensive Cancer Centres by 2025.
  • On new methods for diagnosis and treatments, later this year we will launch the European Cancer Imaging Initiative.
  • When it comes to inequalities, we have for the first time an EU inequalities registry to monitor trends and provide guidance for the prioritisation of investments at EU and national level.

The Cancer Plan makes the special needs of children, adolescents and young adults a key priority. For myself it was a priority that children and adolescents had a special dedicated place in the Cancer Plan.

For instance, we know that a healthy and active lifestyle at a young age is the most effective way to reduce cancer risks. So the Cancer Plan steps up early preventive actions such as promoting healthy diets, taking regular physical activity, curbing overweight and obesity, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol consumption.

More specifically:

  • We’re striving for a tobacco-free generation where less than 5% of the population uses tobacco by 2040, compared to around 25% today. The work of the Belgian Alliance for a Smoke Free Society and their “Generation smoke free”-initiative, is exemplary in this regard
  • We’re evaluating the Action Plan on Childhood Obesity, to help pinpoint areas for further action and collect best practices.

Alongside all this, we’re working with Member States on type 2 diabetes, on improved lifestyles to prevent non-communicable diseases, and on promoting young people’s mental health.

We also want to empower young people and improve their health literacy.

To that end:

  • we’re updating the European Code against Cancer, with a series of clear messages on how to reduce cancer risks; and
  • we’re developing an EU Mobile App for Cancer Prevention on reducing cancer risks, to be ready by 2024.

The growing numbers of cancer survivors include many adolescents and young adults.

They’re all entitled to a good and fulfilling life.

They’re all hugely valuable to society – and at the workplace.

Employers have a vital role in upholding their rights.

The Cancer Plan is here to help as well.

  • We’ve just launched the project to establish an EU Network of Youth Cancer Survivors connecting survivors, their families and carers. The network will boost long-term follow-up in national and regional cancer care plans. I’m delighted that some of you are interested in getting involved and I’ve informed the project coordinator concerned of your interest.
  • In May, we published a report on access to financial services for people with a history of cancer, including the right to be forgotten. Next, we will launch work on the first ever EU  code of conduct, to take place next year.
  • We are also preparing a study on obstacles for cancer patients to remain at and return to work. It will launch next year and guide any future Commission action.

Finally, I want to mention what is for me one of our key initiatives this year.

With Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, we have set an ambitious objective to develop a new EU Cancer Screening Scheme, and have committed as part of this scheme to make sure that we have new fully up to date EU Recommendations on cancer screening.

The current Recommendations date back from 2003, medical science has made huge progress since and, tomorrow, I will present new Recommendations that fully take into account the latest scientific evidence.

We will be updating the target population and the tests to be used for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening. And we will recommend to extend organised screening to include additional cancers, including lung and prostate cancer.

Improving early detection is a key priority for the Cancer Plan, and strong screening tools and programmes are crucial for this.

Friends,

With Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the Horizon Europe research Mission on Cancer supporting it, we have an ambitious European strategy in place.

With this we will mould the policies, research, actions and funding we pursue in the years ahead.

Of course, we can’t be half as effective against cancer if we all work alone. That’s why the support of organisations like Stand up to Cancer means so much. We need to work better together for maximum and broad impact, as you rightly prioritise it in your Future Plan.

Stand up to Cancer has led the battle against cancer for over three decades.

The massive financial support you’ve helped raise has been invested in cancer research, into prevention, treatment and care, changing the lives for patients and their families.

You recently made an important donation of EUR 100 000 to the Solidarity Fund set up by the Union for International Cancer Control to support Ukrainian cancer patients and their families, whose needs are so great at this terrible time for them and their country.

Here in Belgium, you play a key role in boosting solidarity, motivating people to volunteer and help turn the tide against cancer.

Together, Stand up to Cancer, the Belgian government and stakeholders, and the European Commission can work solidly to achieve this. The upcoming Belgian EU Presidency in 2024 could well be an important moment in this process.

Friends,

One day we will beat cancer.

This is Kom op tegen Kankers slogan and ultimate goal.

It is also our shared ambition!

Source – EU Commission