Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides presented a proposal on Tuesday (September 20th) to update a two-decade-old EU Council recommendation on cancer screening, aiming to include more types of cancer in national screening programs.
The proposal includes prostate, lung, and stomach cancer screening in the recommendation, in addition to making some adjustments to existing recommendations for breast, colorectal, and cervical cancer screening.
” We want to make sure we meet the ambitious commitment made under the Cancer Plan that 90% of people in the EU who are eligible for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening will be offered this screening by 2025.Mrs. Kyriakides said at the presentation.
“We offer a step-by-step approach […] With these updates, we cover six cancer hotspots that together account for almost 55% of all new cancers diagnosed in the EU each year and that account for more than 50% of cancer-related deaths.added the health commissioner.
Specifically, the proposal suggests that breast cancer screening be extended to all women between the ages of 45 and 74 and that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) be offered to those with very dense breasts.
For cervical cancer, the commission recommends moving from the Pap test to human papillomavirus (HPV) screening, which should be offered every five years or more to women ages 30 to 65.
To improve colorectal cancer screening, the proposal suggests triaging people ages 50 to 74 using a fecal immunochemical test to determine whether they should undergo a colonoscopy.
For cancer types that have recently been included, lung cancer screening should be offered to ex-smokers and current heavy smokers between the ages of 50 and 75.
The panel also recommends prostate-specific antigen screening for prostate cancer in men under age 70, available with follow-up MRI. Finally, he suggests that gastric cancer screening be offered in areas where incidence and mortality are high.
According to Ms Kyriakides, 1.3 million European citizens lost their lives to cancer in 2020, almost three times more than those who died from Covid-19 in the same year.
He emphasized that the Covid-19 pandemic has made the action even more urgent, as restrictions have severely affected cancer screening programs.
“An estimated 100 million cancer screening tests have been missed in Europe during the pandemicsaid Ms. Kyriakides, who warned that “Cancer will become the leading cause of death in the EU by 2035If we don’t act now.
EU member states are expected to adopt the new recommendation of the Council of the European Union by December 2022.
Implementation of new cancer screening programs will certainly require investments from EU member states.
Presenting the proposal, Ms Kyriakides said that €100 million would be allocated from the ambitious EU for Health (EU4Health) program created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Horizon Europe research budget, which would be dedicated to various screening actions. .
He also pledged a proposal for additional funding under the EU4Health 2023 programme.
In addition, Member States will be able to use coherent policy funds – namely the Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund – to finance investments.
“Cancer screening saves lives. We can talk about cure thanks to early detection. It is also an investment because it will reduce health costsMs Kyriakides said.
Positive development for stakeholders
Initial reaction from stakeholders to the proposed revised guidelines has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Since 2003, the world of screening and early detection has evolved significantly. These include targeting more cancers, implementing new technologies and practices, and improving cancer screening risk prediction models.Isabelle Rubio, Co-Chair of the Prevention, Early Detection and Screening Network of the European Cancer Society, said.
“We are pleased that the new recommendations from EU member states reflect these changes and encourage all countries to update their cancer screening methods with the latest data. The challenge now is to provide a strong implementation and monitoring framework to move from words to action“, he added.
However, some are skeptical of what Ms Kyriakides calls a “phased” approach because it could be used as a way to delay the start of testing.
“If we want to take a “staged approach” to screening, there must be stages. We hope that evidence-based medicine and investment in health systems are the main drivers for the implementation of lung cancer screening, and that the bureaucratic obstacles embedded in this recommendation will not prevent the implementation of this life-saving measure.This was announced by the President of the European Respiratory Society, Carlos Robalo.