Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety
Major and chronic diseases
The most frequently occurring forms of the disease in the EU are colorectal, breast, prostate and lung cancers. In men, lung cancer is the most frequent cause of cancer death, while in women, it is breast cancer. In both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death. Although significant advances are being made in the fight against the disease, cancer remains a key public health concern and a tremendous burden on European societies.
In the past, EU-level cooperation has proven to be of added value in the fight against cancer. The Commission is therefore continuing its efforts to support Member States in their efforts to protect the health of European citizens by taking concrete action. The ambitious goal set by the Commission Communication on Action Against Cancer: European Partnership is to reduce cancer incidence by 15% by 2020:
- In 2014, the Commission established the Expert Group on Cancer Control and published the 2nd implementation report on Cancer Screening and of Commission Communication on the EPPAC
- The CANCON Joint Action 2014-2017 aims to develop the European Guide on Quality Improvement in Comprehensive Cancer Control" ("CanCon").
- From 2009 to 2013, the Commission ran the EPAAC - European Partnership for Action Against Cancer (2009-2013) to help Member States and other stakeholders tackle cancer more efficiently.
- Based on the latest scientific evidence the European Code Against Cancer, developed through a direct grant with IARC, is a set of 12 recommendations on how people can take action to reduce their cancer risk.
European Partnership for Action Against Cancer
In 2009, the European Commission reinforced its long-term commitment to the fight against cancer by launching a European Partnership for Action Against Cancer .
The overall aim of the Partnership (2009-2013) was to support Member States and other stakeholders in their efforts to tackle cancer more efficiently. The Partnership provided a framework for identifying and sharing information, capacity and expertise in cancer prevention and control. It will also helped avoid scattered actions and duplication of efforts, and contribute towards better use of limited resources available.
The objective was for all Member States to have integrated cancer plans at the end of the Partnership. The long-term aim is to reduce cancer incidence by 15% by 2020.
Achievements of the Partnership
Strong cooperation between the EU and Member States on cancer has led to improved screening rates according to a report on progress made under European Partnership on Cancer and the 2003 Council recommendation on cancer screening. The vast majority of Member States – 25 out of 28 – have met the target of putting in place a national cancer control plan. And well over 500 million screening examinations for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer are projected in the EU for the period 2010-2020. Reaching the target of a reduction of 15% in cancer incidence by 2020 is a major public health goal for the EU. In addition to coordination and support to Member States, in the last seven years the EU has invested more than €1.4 billion in cancer-related research, including finding new ways of fighting cancer and supporting patients.
Work of the Partnership
To develop the Partnership, the Commission held initial brainstorming workshop in October 2008, as well as three consultation meetings with Member States, experts and stakeholders during the spring of 2009.
The Communication Action Against Cancer: European Partnership broadly sets out the objectives for the European Partnership, but areas and actions have been determined by members of the Partnership themselves. These areas include:
- Prevention (Health promotion and early detection);
- Identification and promotion of good practice in cancer-related healthcare;
- Priorities for cancer research;
- Health information, collection and analysis of comparable data.
The work of the Partnership has been carried forward through a "Joint Action", a financial mechanism under the EU Health Programme (for information on joint actions, see the Chafea website). The Joint Action officially began in early February 2011, and will continue until February 2014. It benefited additionally from administrative and scientific support from the Commission.
The activities of the Partnership can be followed at the following website, which is managed and updated by the coordinator of the Joint Action:
Chronological steps in the creation of the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer
Launch of the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer
The European Commission launched the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer on 29 September 2009, see press release.
Click here to see more details
Open call for interested stakeholders to apply for participation in the preparatory meeting for the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer (closed October 2009)
Preparatory meetings for the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer
- Planning of next steps, 28 September 2010
- Preparatory meeting with interested EU Member States and EEA countries, 09 February 2010
- Second meeting, 28 January 2010
- First meeting, 07-08 December 2009
The initial meetings of the Steering Committee and of the Working Group on national cancer plans
Since activities began under the Joint Action, information is available at the following website:
Expert Group on Cancer Control
The first meeting of the Expert Group on Cancer Control took place on 23 -24 September 2014 in Milan in the presence of Commissioner Borg and the Italian Minister, Beatrice Lorenzini.
"Cancer has for many years been a priority issue for EU public health policy – since 1985 in fact. And it was here in Milan at the European Council in 1985 – nearly 30 years ago – that the 12 Heads of State of the then countries of the European Community decided to launch the first "Europe Against Cancer" programme, which became operational in 1987," Commissioner Borg stated.
The Expert Group has been established by a Commission Decision dated 3 June 2014.
Prevention of Cancer
It has been estimated that more than one third of all cancers are preventable. Prevention also offers the most cost-effective, long-term strategy for reducing the European burden of diseases. This is why primary prevention by tackling major health determinants, such as smoking, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, is a long-term priority for the Commission.
Further information on Commission work on risk factors and health determinants can be found here.
European Code against Cancer
The European Code Against Cancer is a key prevention tool, based on scientifically proven evidence. This simple list of recommendations gives citizens two very clear messages:
- Certain cancers may be avoided – and health in general can be improved – by adopting healthier lifestyle
- Cancers may be cured, or the prospects of cure greatly increased, if they are detected early
- "European Code against Cancer" - 4th edition (2014) - available in all EU official languages
- For further information, please visit also the dedicated IRAC website on the Code
While primary prevention aims to reduce the incidence of cancer by tackling the major determinants of cancer, such as smoking, nutrition and physical activity, secondary prevention aims to reduce mortality by early detection of cancer through population screening.
Regular and systematic examinations can detect the disease early, when it is more responsive to less aggressive treatment. Followed by appropriate treatment, these examinations can significantly reduce cancer mortality and improve the quality of life of cancer patients.
In 2003, the EU Health Ministers unanimously adopted a Council Recommendation on cancer screening , setting out principles of best practice in the early detection of cancer. They invited all Member States to take common action to implement national population-based screening programmes for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer, with appropriate quality assurance at all levels.
In December 2008 the Commission adopted its first Report on the Implementation of the Council Recommendation on cancer screening of 2 December 2003. The Report found that much has been done to attain high standards of screening practices across the EU. However, fewer than half of the minimum number of recommended examinations are taking place if the screening tests specified in the Council Recommendation were available to all EU citizens of appropriate age (approximately 125 million examinations per year), and not always within the organisational framework necessary to ensure thorough quality assurance.
See also: " Cancer Screening in the European Union – Report on the Implementation of the Council Recommendation on Cancer Screening".
To assist the Member States with cancer screening, the Commission has produced European guidelines for quality assurance in cervical cancer screening, European guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis and European guidelines for quality assurance in colorectal cancer screening and diagnosis.