The British tabloids were having a field day as the conspiracy theories created their own reality of the absurd. The truth proved to be more prosaic, harsher and closer to home. Kate Middleton, a 42-year-old mother of three young children demonstrating great courage and strength and entering every home as she spoke straight to the cameras, announced something we are often afraid to admit to and accept about ourselves and those close to us: that she has been diagnosed with cancer. But that she’s strong and going to make it. How many tears have been shed when a doctor translates a barrage of incomprehensible tests into that one word? How many families have bonded, and how many others have been blown apart, as they embark on the difficult struggle? How many were defeated, but how many made it through effort, force of will and the desire to live and see their children grow up and themselves reborn?

Cancer in Europe: the numbers

There are an estimated 12 million cancer survivors in Europe, including some 300,000 who had cancer as children. They survived thanks to advances in early detection, effective treatments, and supportive care. According to European Commission figures, around 40 % of cancer cases are preventable, with effective cancer prevention strategies capable of warding off the disease, saving lives, and alleviating pain.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the EU after cardiovascular disease. Every year, 2.6 million people are diagnosed with the disease, which kills 1.2 million. At the same time, Europe accounts for a quarter of all cancer cases worldwide despite being home to less than 10 % of the world’s population, while cancer’s total economic impact on Europe is estimated at €100 billion per year.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan
In February 2021, the Commission presented its Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan in response both to the growing challenges and to developments in the field of cancer treatment. The goal is to leave no stone unturned and do everything that can be done in the fight against cancer.

“This is the first time that Europe has had a robust and holistic plan in place for cancer, which covers everything from prevention through to survival and quality of life. It’s the first time we have a plan in place with a budget in excess of €4 billion euros. And the new plan is already being implemented. I feel that, at the European level, we have done more with regard to cancer over the last four years than in the decades before that,” Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told TO BHMA in December 2023.

Based on ten flagship initiatives and multiple supporting actions, it forms part of the Commission’s proposal for a strong European Health Union that can ensure a safer, better prepared and more resilient EU.

The Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is structure around both patients and their carers and covers a number of key areas:
• prevention
• early detection
• diagnosis and treatment
• quality of life for cancer patients and survivors

The plan has already delivered results. These include:

• The first revised, research-backed screening recommendations in almost 20 years, covering types of cancer that together account for almost 55% of all the new cases diagnosed in the EU every year.
• A first European Cancer Inequalities Registry (ECIR) to facilitate a better understanding of the situation regarding cancer in the different Member States and to better guide EU investment and support.
• A European network that seeks to improve the quality of life for the survivors of childhood cancer and adolescents and young adults with cancer through improved social networking and the use of a platform to bring patients, cancer survivors and social health professionals working in cancer prevention and care across the EU closer together.
• A cross-border EU cancer training and development program that will allow oncology professionals from different countries to improve their skills together through joint training programs.
• An ongoing project aimed at setting up the first European Network of Comprehensive Cancer Centers by 2025 to improve standards of care in the EU.
• A first collaboration between the EU and US on cancer within the framework of the EU-US Health Task Force; the initial focus will be on childhood/young adult cancer and lung cancer.
• In all, around 40 cancer actions funded under the EU4Health program are currently in operation.

The Commission will also support Member States to ensure that 90% of EU patients eligible for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening are screened by 2025. The Commission proposal also extends targeted cancer screening to lung, prostate and, in certain circumstances, stomach cancer.

The actions are evolving, as is the science, for the benefit of patients and their families. And the glass can be half full and not half empty. As Mrs. Kyriakides told us: “I always see the glass half full in everything I do. And I always learn from the hard things in life. And having cancer doesn’t define me. It’s part of who I am. It’s part of my journey. But it has also allowed me to really see what we need to do in the field of health in general, to combat not just for cancer but also inequalities.”