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Press release

Improving performance of European cancer research


Brussels, 16 May 2001

Key words: cancer research, European co-operation, collaboration, early diagnosis, best clinical practices, standards of after care

See: Discours de M.Philippe Busquin, Membre de la Commission européenne en charge de la recherche, - Conférence sur le Cancer, Bruxelles (Belgique), le 22 mai 2001

On 22-23 May 2001, Commissioner Philippe Busquin will be bringing together European cancer research managers with top cancer researchers to improve co-ordination of European Cancer Research. Significant differences in research performance between the US and the EU exist, which mostly result from fragmentation of European efforts and poor co-ordination between various networks of excellence in the different Member States. According to Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, the EU must contribute to remedy these deficiencies: "The whole subject of cancer research requires a European approach because a large, co-operative effort is needed to ensure that every European citizen will rapidly profit from the revolution of knowledge in cancer management".

In the EU today cancer strikes one in three individuals before their 75th birthday and it is responsible for one death in four. Each year almost 4 million new cases are diagnosed and three quarters of a million people die. Although nearly half of all cancer patients now survive beyond the fifth anniversary of their diagnosis, the spectrum of malignant disease is still responsible for much suffering and premature loss of life.

A two day meeting is being organised by DG Research on the 22/23 May 2001 in Brussels. The meeting will bring together 45 leading cancer researchers, clinicians and cancer research managers from 30 countries.

The aim is to promote complementarity and increased coherence of European efforts related to the following major issues:

  • Surveillance. Surveillance of cancer trends will help researchers, clinicians and managers to formulate questions about its causes, to ask what the rational priorities for prevention should be, and to plan the provision of staff and facilities to treat the expected burden. It will also provide morbidity and mortality figures against which the success of screening programmes and other societal interventions must ultimately be judged. When allied to demographic projections, surveillance of cancer trends facilitates an informed projection of the future burden of cancer in the population and in the society, which can prove to be a very powerful stimulus for political action.
  • Co-operation. A large co-operative European effort is required to support rapid advances in a field which is crucial for the well-being of European citizens. Networking of centres of excellence is an important mechanism to progress faster, in particular if academics and industry work closer together.
  • Translation of knowledge. Transfer from basic research to clinical use and public health use must become a rapid process with high priority in an internationally very competitive field.
  • Evaluation. Methods for fast evaluation and application of new approaches are essential in this field.

According to Prof. Zur Hausen, Head of the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (German cancer research centre): "Improving the exchange of information between leading scientists and clinicians in European cancer research clearly has the potential to lead to wider understanding of mechanisms of cancer development and to a higher quality in assessment, prevention, diagnosis and therapy. This should have impact on clinical practitioners and contribute in general to improved scientific quality of European medical research".

The EU has supported research in the field of cancer over the last decade and, as a result, there is excellent state-of-the-art research in progress. However, with the publication of the sequence of human genome new opportunities could be available for better cancer diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. The conference will concentrate on the first day on the scientific aspects of research and on the second day on better co-ordination of national activities in the fields of prevention, screening and better research strategy.

The Commission's proposal for the next R&D Framework Programme identifies cancer as one of the topics for research, particularly with the objective of integrating new genomics-based tools with more conventional approaches towards curing cancer. Says Commissioner Busquin: "The European programmes only represent a few percent of funding for cancer research in Europe. Many actors are involved. I want to bring everyone around the table and discuss how we can better organise the massive work that is still to be done".

For additional information, please contact:

Dr. Bill Baig, Health Research Directorate, Research DG
Fax +
E-mail :

Michel Claessens, Communication Unit, Research DG
Fax: +32-2-295.82.20

Cancer in the European Union


The annual number of cancer deaths in the EU is about 837 000 and the estimated number of new cancer cases is 1.300 000. Both incidence and mortality rates are higher in males than females in all countries with striding sex differences in some countries. For example, males in France experienced a rate of cancer that is 50% higher than in females; by comparison, in Denmark the excess in males is only about 7%. The higher incidence and mortality rates experienced by males are largely due to their greater use of tobacco and alcohol, although other factors such as occupational exposures to carcinogens and biological differences between the sexes also contribute.

Cancer incidence in males in the USA is about 10% higher than in males in EU countries with the highest rates and the difference is slightly more than this in females. In contrast, cancer mortality in US males is low, approximately the same as in Spain, and slightly higher than in Greece and Portugal. Cancer mortality in US females is approximately midway between the highest and the lowest EU rates. Because of the difficulty in making an accurate estimate of their large numbers, non-melanocytic skin cancers are excluded because of the large number of these cancers.

Cancer Deaths in the EU

The ranked order of killing cancers in the EU is as follows:

Cancer Type Estimated Annual Death Rate in 1.000 in the EU Ranked Order
Lung Cancer (M & F) 447,9 1
Colon, Rectum (M & F) 98,5 2
Bladder (M & F) 89,3 3
Breast (F) 68,8 4
Stomach 65,8 5
Prostate 44,6 6
Pancreas 36,8 7

  1. Lung Cancer
  • Tobacco smoking, particularly cigarette smoking. Some 83% of the lung cancer cases in men and 34% in women are estimated to be due to tobacco smoking.
  • Occupational exposures including asbestos, coal tars, and arsenic.
  • Genetic factors
  • In men, incidence rates appear to have stopped increasing in a number of high-risk EU countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • In contrast, the incidence is increasing steeply in men and women in France, Spain, and Portugal.
  • In women, rapid increases in incidence and mortality rates are occurring in the south.
  • Poor: five-year relative survival rate < l0%.
  1. Colon & Rectum
  • Modern, high-fat, high-protein western diet increases risk and low in vegetables and fruit and fibre, which are thought to be protective.
  • Genetic factors
  • Occupational exposures, some aspects of reproductive history, reduced physical activity and a history of cholecystectomy (likely impact is thought to be quite small).
  • Incidence rates have been stable or increasing in all EU countries, apart from a slight decrease in younger people in Denmark and the UK.
  • In contrast, mortality rates have decreased, most steeply in women.
  • Incidence rates are lower than in the USA, but mortality rates in all except the southern countries are higher.
  • Improved in recent years ; 5-year relative survival rates : 30% - 45%.
  1. Bladder Cancer
  • Smoking
  • Various occupational exposures such as aromatic amines.
  • Difficult to interpret because of differences in recording benign and non-invasive tumours. Mortality rates in men have decreased in the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, while the increases that have occurred in the southern countries have been relatively small.
  • Stable mortality rates in women.
  • Fair: slightly < 50%.
  1. Breast Cancer
  • Genetic predisposition : + family history of the disease,
  • Increased body size
  • Prior history of benign breast disease
  • Reproductive factors including late age at first birth, nulliparity, early menarche and late age at menopause, the use of oral contraceptives at young ages and unopposed oestrogens for the relief of menopausal symptoms,
  • Exposure to ionising radiation
  • ? Diet, especially one rich in fat and protein of animal origin
  • ? Increased alcohol consumption.
  • Incidence rates increased in all EU countries
  • Mortality started to decrease recently in younger women in Denmark, the Netherlands and UK.
  • Incidence rates in the EU are lower than in the USA.
  • Five-year relative survival rates vary between 60% and 70%.
  1. Stomach Cancer
  • Dietary factors : starchy, smoked, salted and fried foods and insufficient green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits
  • Genetic factors
  • Incidence decreasing at more than 5% annually for the last 25 years, due to improved diet.
  • Rates are considerably higher than in the USA; for example, incidence in southern Europe is between 2-4-fold higher, and mortality between 3-5-fold, than the US rates.
  • Poor: between 10% and 20%.
  1. Prostate Cancer
  • Obscure: sexual factors have been proposed as important.
  • Dietary factors: high fat and protein consumption.
  • Genetic factors resulting from environmental interaction
  • Rates of this cancer have been increasing in all EU countries.
  • Incidence in the EU is much lower (about one half) than in the USA, although there is very little difference in the rates of mortality.
  • Five-year relative survival rates are slightly > 50%.
  1. Pancreatic Cancer
  • Smoking
  • Dietary factors
  • Incidence and mortality have been increasing in recent times in southern countries to a level of risk closer to that seen in the north. In consequence, geographic variation in risk of this cancer has been diminishing.
  • Rates are about 20% to 45% lower in females than males.
  • Very poor: five-year relative survival rates < 5% (cancer of the pancreas is almost uniformly fatal).
Cost of Research into Cancer in the EU

Approximately € 1,3 bbn per year in terms of basic and clinical research, screening, treatment and prevention.


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