Non-communicable diseases

Cancer

Cancer is one of the main priorities of the European Commission in the health domain. President von der Leyen´s political guidelines refer to "a European plan to fight cancer, to support Member States in improving cancer control and care" to reduce the suffering caused by this disease and for Europe to take the lead in the fight against cancer.

EU policy on cancer

The mission letter to the Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides defines the need to support EU countries in their work on cancer prevention to care.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, presented in February 2020, is the EU’s response to growing challenges and developments in cancer control and represents a political commitment to leave no stone unturned in the fight against cancer. Built around ten flagship initiatives, and several supporting actions, it forms part of the Commission’s proposals for a strong European Health Union with a view to ensuring a more secure, better-prepared and more resilient EU.

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan supports Member States’ work to prevent cancer and to ensure a high quality of life for cancer patients, survivors, their families and carers and is structured around a number of key areas where the EU can add most value:

  • prevention
  • early detection
  • diagnosis and treatment
  • quality of life of cancer patients and survivors  

The Cancer Plan is linked to other Commission priorities, notably the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and the EU Farm to Fork Strategy as well as the planned European Health Data Space (expected by 2025). Cancer is one of the proposed European research and innovation missions and part of the Horizon Europe framework beginning in 2021.

The EU4Health (2021-2027) programme will provide financial and technical support to Member States, helping efforts to strengthen health systems.

Cancer is a major health issue as referred in Article 168 TFEU, which gives the EU the competence to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States for the protection and improvement of human health.

The European Commission has been working on cancer since 1985 with EU Member States and civil society, in close collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the Joint Research Centre and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Cancer: a joint approach

Cancer is the second leading cause of mortality in EU countries after cardiovascular diseases. Every year, 2.6 million people are diagnosed with the disease and it kills another 1.2 million people.

Considering that Europe has a quarter of all cancer cases and less than 10% of the world’s population, it is evident that cancer is a huge threat to our society. The overall economic impact of cancer in Europe is €100 billion annually.

Evidence shows that 40% of cancers are preventable if we implement what we know already. However, only 3% of health budgets is being currently spent on health promotion and disease prevention. Therefore, the scope for action is immense.

Action on cancer prevention and healthy lifestyles also serves the fight against obesity and other non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as they share common risk factors.

According to the State of Health in the EU reports, cancer is one of the major contributors to premature deaths in the EU. It has an impact not only on individual health, but also has a considerable social and economic impact.

This disease puts pressure on national health care and social protection systems, governmental budgets and it affects the productivity and growth of the economy. Therefore, we need more resilient health systems. In particular, to support Member States who are most in need of evidence-based policy making to ensure that all EU citizens have equal access to high quality cancer prevention, diagnostics, treatment and aftercare.

A number of achievements have paved the way for a joint approach to fighting cancer in the EU. Below are links to documents that have underpinned EU action, and supporting EU actions aimed at helping EU countries and interested parties to turn the tide against cancer.

Policy framework

Initiatives on cancer prevention and control

Initiatives coordinated by the Joint Research Centre of the Commission in the area of cancer prevention and control, include the:

Health Programme funding contributes to the European Reference Networks on cancer as well as joint actions on:

Related information