A proposal for a new cancer screening system, which seeks to improve the early detection of cancer, was presented today by Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides on behalf of the Commission.
The recommendations include increasing screening for six types of cancer that together are estimated to account for 55% of all cases diagnosed in the EU each year: extending breast cancer screening to more age groups, regular cervical cancer tests, screening for colorectal cancer, lung cancer screening programs, enabling prostate cancer screening and introducing stomach cancer screening in areas where there are high incidences.
three times as many people died from cancer in 2020, a total of 1.3 billion, compared to those who died from coronavirus, a total of 420 thousand people
"If we don't act now, cancer will become the leading cause of death in the EU by 2035," Kyriakides said, noting that to change this trend, cancer detection will need to be improved.
"We need to screen more and we need to screen better," she stressed, recalling that 20 years have passed since the adoption of the current screening recommendations, while medicine and technology have made significant progress.
The Commissioner also announced that the Commission will provide an additional €100 million in funding to improve research into screening through the EU4Health and Horizon Europe programs, and will propose additional funding through the EU4Health funds for 2023.
Furthermore, Member States will be able to use funds from the Cohesion Funds, in particular the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund + to co-finance the necessary investments.
Kyriakides said that she expects the Member States to adopt the recommendations within the Council by December this year. The proposals to update the recommendations on screening are a key pillar of the European Cancer Plan presented in February 2021, she explained.
In particular, the Commission recommends the following changes regarding screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer:
- Extending breast cancer screening, which currently covers women aged 50 to 69, to include women aged 45 to 74, and recommending that member states consider specific diagnostic measures, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for women with particularly dense breasts,
-giving priority to human papillomavirus (HPV) testing for women aged 30-65 years every five years instead of the Pap test, depending on their HPV vaccination status,
-to perform a stool immunochemical test for colorectal cancer in people aged 50-74 years instead of looking for latent bleeding in the stool to determine whether further endoscopy/colonoscopy is needed.
The Commission also recommends introducing screening for lung cancer, prostate cancer and, in some cases, stomach cancer:
- Lung cancer: the Commission recommends introducing screening for smokers and ex-smokers aged 50 to 75 who have stopped smoking in the last 15 years, and have a smoking history of 30 pack-years (equivalent to 20 cigarettes a day for 30 years).
- Prostate cancer: the Commission proposes to introduce prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for men up to 70 years of age, in combination with additional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a further test.
- Stomach cancer: in countries or regions with higher rates of stomach cancer incidence and mortality, the Commission proposes the introduction of screening for Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach ulcers and, in some cases, lead to stomach cancer, and recommends screening for pre-cancerous stomach ulcers from other causes.
Ms. Kyriakides said that among the goals of the cancer plan is to ensure that 90% of those eligible for screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer are screened by 2025. Currently, coverage is uneven, ranging between 6% and 90% for breast cancer and between 20% and 70% for colorectal cancer, she said.
Kyriakides explained that the COVID-19 pandemic in the last three years "showed us how fragile our daily lives can be and how critical health is for our citizens and for the proper functioning of our societies", as three times as many people died from cancer in 2020, a total of 1.3 billion, compared to those who died from coronavirus, a total of 420 thousand people.
"The fact is that in most EU member states, cancer screening programs have largely either stopped or slowed down" due to the pandemic, she continued, noting that an estimated 100 million cancer screening tests were not carried out in Europe during the pandemic.
[This article was translated from its Greek original]