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Cancer screening rates far off target - 26/01/2009

Doctor examining a patient’s mammogram © Reporters

EU countries screen less than half the recommended number of people for cancer and death rates are likely to rise unless action is taken.

In 2003, EU health ministers advised governments to put in place large-scale screening programmes for people at a higher risk of cancer because of generic factors like age and gender. Twenty-two countries have complied for breast cancer, 15 for cervical cancer and 12 for colorectal cancer. These common cancers can often be detected through relatively accurate and simple procedures like Pap smears and mammograms.

The ministers recommended carrying out some 125m cancer checks a year on people in the target groups. But a recent EU survey indicates that only about 51m screenings, or 41% of the desired number, are being performed. Of those, less than half are conducted in the recommended manner.

Together, breast, colorectal and cervical cancers account for one in three cancer deaths in women. For men, colorectal cancer accounts for 11% of cancer deaths. With the EU population ageing, those rates are set to increase unless preventive measures are taken.

Some 3.2m of 500m Europeans are diagnosed with cancer - the most common cause of death after circulatory disease. Breast cancer accounts for about 30% of cancer cases among women in the EU, far more than colorectal and cervical cancer with 13% and 3% respectively. In men, colorectal cancer accounts for 13% of cancer cases.

Cancer cases are distributed unevenly across the EU. Belgium has the highest incidence of breast cancer, but Denmark has the highest mortality rate. Romania has the lowest incidence and Spain the lowest mortality.

More on cancer in the EU

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