Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you at the launch of the Economist’s World Cancer Series.

And I join you as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge the European Union, its Member States and its citizens in unprecedented ways.

The public consequences of the pandemic – on our health and economies, on our daily social interactions and our way of life -are very clear.

Privately, too, COVID-19 is affecting citizens, and resulting in higher levels of “silent suffering”, anxiety and mental illness.

And yet, the pandemic has also brought out the very best of the EU. 

COVID-19 has given rise to an incredible amount of solidarity across Europe.

Many Member States have taken in critical patients from other EU countries in need.

Neighbours have delivered groceries to the elderly. Frontline workers have sacrificed immensely and worked tirelessly.

And herein lies the strength of the European Union -- in its unified voice, in coordinated action, in collaboration and solidarity between Member States and citizens.

Here, too, lies the best path out of this pandemic and towards a healthier, fairer, and better prepared EU.

This is the key learning that we must take away from this crisis and it applies equally to other areas of healthcare – including cancer.

I know that cancer patients have been hugely affected by COVID-19.

The pandemic has disrupted treatment, delayed screening and vaccination programmes, paused clinical trials, and affected access to medicines. 

A World Health Organization study found that more than 4 out of 10 countries had partially or completely disrupted cancer treatment services.

Imagine the physical and mental impact this disruption has on countless patients across Europe.

So COVID-19 has added a new layer of risk for patients, increased the burden on carers, and created more worry, uncertainty and stress for families.

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, the Commission has mobilised all the means at its disposal to help Member States and citizens through this crisis – and this includes the area of cancer care.

In parallel, we are also finalising Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, which we will publish in the coming weeks.

So we are tackling cancer in the context of the pandemic, but also from a medium to long term perspective.

And this will be done with considerable financial support from the soon to be adopted EU4Health Programme.

The Beating Cancer Plan is a crosscutting priority for the Commission as a whole and many policy areas will make important contributions. This is vital, because tackling cancer is not just the responsibility of the health sector.

And it will, of course, incorporate lessons learned during this pandemic.

The Plan will address cancer in a holistic way, covering: (1) prevention; (2) early detection; (3) diagnosis and treatment; and (4) quality of life of cancer patients and survivors.

1. The first pillar of the Plan aims to prevent the preventable with actions on healthy lifestyles and environmental pollution.

We know that around 40% of cancer cases in the EU can be prevented, so this is an obvious place to start.

Take smoking, for example. More than 1 out of every 4 cancers in the WHO European Region is attributed to tobacco use.

Or exposure to hazardous substances and radiations. More than half of annual occupational deaths in the EU can be attributed to work-related cancers.

We also need to do more to maximise the potential of vaccination.

The opportunities here are immense, both to reduce cancer cases and to reduce other major non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.

2. Early detection of cancer through screening will be stepped up through better implementation and roll out of existing programmes for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening.

Today, unacceptable inequalities persist within and between Member States.

For example, between Member States, coverage of the target population ranges from about 25% to 80% for cervical cancer screening.

3. The third pillar on diagnosis and treatment will ensure more integrated and comprehensive care, and address the unequal access to quality care and medicines.

Right now, the death rate from cancer in Member States ranges from 194 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants to 345 deaths.

Again, these inequalities are intolerable, and we must do more to reduce them.

4. Due to advances in early detection, effective therapies and supportive care, more and more people are surviving cancer.

However, it’s not just about how long you live. We need to strive for more, so the real question is how long and how well you live.

Pillar 4 looks at important survivorship issues, such as rehabilitation, emotional distress, potential tumour recurrence, and metastatic disease.


Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will also address other key oncology issues that open the doors to better cancer outcomes, such as research, data and new technologies.

Through research and innovation, the Horizon Europe Cancer Mission will help to improve our evidence-base, allowing us to develop better policies and more effective actions.

The Plan will also help us to maximise the potential of data and new technologies.

But in order to do so, we need better infrastructure that enables up-to-date and comparable health data and facilitates its use for research purposes. The planned European Health Data Space will be a game changer in this regard.

And with the planned Knowledge Centre on Cancer, we aim to coordinate the many technical and scientific components of cancer-related Commission activities.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Europe has a quarter of the world’s cancer cases, with less than 10% of its population. And cancer incidence is set to grow because of ageing populations, unhealthy lifestyles and unfavourable environmental conditions.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is our response to this growing threat.

However, public health authorities cannot address the challenge alone. Instead, we need a holistic, health-in-all-policies and multi-stakeholder approach.

Genuine, long-lasting change comes about through solidarity, collaboration, effective partnerships, and unity of purpose.

So I urge you all to give this Plan your full support – help us to ensure that its impact is felt by patients and their families across the EU.

Now, I look forward to an insightful, innovative and forward-looking discussion.