European Cancer Organisation

NEWS: The EU and Cancer: It’s time for a bold vision Mr Juncker

In 1976, a doctor, M.F. Weiner, wrote an article in Medical Economics titled ‘Don’t Waste a Crisis – Your Patient’s or Your Own’. In it, he urged doctors to think about how a medical crisis can be used to improve aspects of personality, mental health, or lifestyle.

I would like to give the European Union the same advice at this moment. I fear ‘Brexit’ is only the most recent example of the public losing its appetite for the spirit of cooperation that gave birth to the ‘European project’ sixty years ago in Rome.

So what is to be done? Those of us working in cancer know the improvements that collaboration brings. That clearly refers to the vitally important collaboration across disciplines required to provide the best cancer care to patients. ECCO promotes this mission daily, most recently with the publication of Essential Requirements for Quality Cancer Care in the fields of colorectal cancer and sarcoma. However, it also refers to collaboration across countries in specialised areas of treatment such as rare cancers, now further helped by new European Reference Networks. Collaboration also means mobility of healthcare professionals to share skills across borders, and collaboration between countries in conducting cutting edge research into new treatments, services and practices.

So from the cancer care perspective, giving in to cynicism and abandoning multinational collaboration is not the way for Europe to go. But the EU must improve both the way it works and what it prioritises if it is to inspire the public anew about the benefits of countries coming together in common cause.

A good way of thinking about this challenge could be to start from the guiding question: ‘What matters most to citizens?’ Survey evidence continually tells us what I think we probably all know already: health matters most. Not just our personal health, but that of the ones we love. 

Credible polling by organisations like Ipsos-MORI also informs us that, year-on-year, within health, cancer is at the forefront of citizens’ concerns.

So with that in mind, is it really right or sensible for the response to euroscepticism to be for the EU to do less on health and cancer? Sometimes the EU (and its members) don’t do enough to promote what has been achieved. In health, this includes remarkable improvements in collaboration, such as: centralised authorisation of medicines; harmonisation of clinical trial regulations; automatic recognition of professional qualifications across borders; and groundbreaking public health collaboration in areas such as tobacco control. I could continue the list, but I want to conclude.

The EU is at its best not when it is timid, shy and reticent, but when it is bold. Like any organisation, when it defies the nay-sayers, offers vision and then pursues that vision to a successful conclusion, its esteem and value is raised, and its legacy secured.

Cancer is an area where vision can be rewarded, and lasting public support secured. 

I call on the EU to direct its priorities to those of the general public. There are few greater hopes among the population than the hope that we will get the better of cancer in our own time. 

Europe’s multidisciplinary community of cancer healthcare professionals, represented by ECCO, stands ready and willing to help shape a new and ambitious vision for the EU on cancer. Working together, across disciplines and across countries, much more improvement can still be achieved. A firm sign of political intent that this is what the EU wants to focus on will not only remove barriers, it will reassure the public that the EU is working on the issues that matter most to them.

Peter Naredi 
President of the ECCO Board of Directors (2016/2017) 

Article published in May-July edition of

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