Cancer in the European Union
Conference Seeks Ways to Reduce Burden

13 February 2008

Around the world, the incidence of cancer is increasing. Experts warn that new cases could double by 2020, unless action is taken now. Low and middle-income countries are likely to be hardest hit. But even in affluent countries, where cancer prevention and treatment are well-developed, cancer is still a leading cause of death.

The Republic of Slovenia, which took over Presidency of the European Union (EU) on 1. January 2008, has designated cancer as a leading health priority of its six months' term of office. Calling for closer cooperation between EU Member States to help combat the disease, Slovenia hosted a major conference The Burden of Cancer – How Can it be Reduced? in the Brdo Congress Centre on 7-8 February. The gathering, which was attended by European policy makers, NGOs, leading health experts, researchers and patient advocate, aimed to highlight the magnitude of the problem and stimulate the exchange of information and experiences in the fields of cancer prevention, screening, integrated care and research. Another objective was to explore comprehensive strategies to tackle the disease at the regional and national levels.

Recent statistics show that with over 3 million new cases and 1.7 million fatalities each year, cancer is currently the second most important cause of death in Europe. Just as there are differences between the developed and developing worlds in standards and availability of cancer care and control, inequalities also exist between EU Member States and, within some countries, among various sections of the population. Slovenian Health Minister Zofija Mazej Kukovic, who presided over the conference, stressed that disparities in financial and human resources were leading to unacceptable differences and gaps in cancer prevention and control across the EU.

Calling for increased investment, especially in cancer prevention and early detection, the Minister said: ”Each Euro invested in prevention is the best long term investment. We have to bear this fact in mind each time we adopt important decisions on health priorities.“ In this respect, the introduction of strategies and measures to promote good public health — tackling such issues as obesity, smoking, alcohol and the environment — present the EU with an important challenge, she said.

At the same time, Minister Kukovic reiterated the importance of greater collaborative effort in fighting cancer: ”We have to strive for more synergy among Member States, European institutions and civil society, as well as international organizations at the global level,“ she said. Areas for possible future cooperation include the development and implementation of national cancer control plans — integrating prevention, early detection, treatment and palliative care — as well as the establishment of cancer registries. The production and exchange of research and data are also seen as crucial to strengthening the different areas of cancer control and improving the cancer outlook across the EU. ”Cancer research is not a luxury“ said Prof Richard Sullivan of the London School of Economics. ”It is an absolute necessity“.

The International Atomic Energy Agency was represented by its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) at this key European conference to make its work in the field of cancer control known to conference participants. The European Union has a strong cooperation and development policy component, and has already been approached by PACT to support cancer control initiatives in developing countries. The PACT Model Demonstration Site in the European region, Albania, was represented by its Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Arben Ivanaj. PACT partners IARC, WHO and UICC contributed to the conference programme.

Please visit the official conference website to view powerpoint presentations of the main conclusions of the conference, and a picture gallery.