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Doctor examining a patient’s mammogram ©Reporters

Disparities in death rates prompt new joint effort.

Men in Hungary are nearly twice as likely to die from cancer as men in Sweden and Finland. The same is true of women in Denmark, compared with women in Greece and Spain.

The rate of colorectal cancer in Germany is about twice as high as in Greece, while in Belgium and France, breast cancer is far more common than in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania.

These huge differences between EU countries are nothing new. Many factors affect the numbers, including the way they are gathered and reported. But the persistence of wide variations suggests unevenness in the quality of healthcare across the EU.

The disparities – along with high cancer rates in Europe as a whole – are among the concerns driving a new EU effort to foster more cooperation in the fight against cancer, long a priority in EU public health policy.

The European partnership for action against cancer – scheduled for launch in the autumn – will bring together researchers, doctors, government officials and patient-group representatives in four working groups. Each group will have a different focus: cancer prevention, treatment, research and collecting information.

Over the next five years, the groups will explore ways to reduce cancer rates – for example, by expanding screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer and developing a coordinated approach to cancer research. They will also work to ensure accurate and comparable data. The commission will oversee their efforts and provide administrative and scientific support.

The hope is that by sharing knowledge, capacity and experience, EU countries will have more success in preventing and treating the disease. Working together should also help them avoid duplication and make better use of their resources.

The EU has set itself the goal of a 15% reduction in new cases over the next decade – by 2020. That would mean 510 000 fewer new cases. With cancer cases increasing as the population ages, that is going to be a challenge.

Every year, some 3.2 million Europeans are diagnosed with cancer, the most common cause of death in Europe after cardiovascular disease. Cancer accounts for 3 out of 10 deaths in men and 2 out of 10 in women.

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