European Cancer Organisation

NEWS: Unleash the full force of the EU against cancer! Our call to the new European Commission President

By Prof Philip Poortmans, ECCO President 2018-2019


Elections, within any organisation, provide an opportunity for renewal. Fresh ideas can be articulated and new faces can come forward for leadership. This was much on my mind in the run up to the recent EU-wide elections to the European Parliament.

I was pleased to note that, taking a cue almost directly from my predecessor’s June 2017 editorial in Cancer World  - ‘The EU and Cancer: It’s time for a bold vision Mr Juncker’ - cancer has made its way on to the election agenda. Not only is the content of a future EU mission on cancer a matter of hot discussion, but a potential ‘European Masterplan’ to fight cancer is also being proposed. It is heartening to see candidates to become the next European Commission President competing to offer suggestions to the public as to what the EU can do more of to elevate all countries’ efforts against cancer.

The ‘why’ of an EU Cancer Mission and Masterplan against cancer appears clear. Two in five of us will face cancer in our lives, and all of us can be assumed to be touched by the issue, as friends and family go through diagnosis and treatment. There is more to be done to improve the quality and outcomes of treatment, and the EU can unblock many of the obstacles by improving opportunities for collaboration in all areas, including from astute legislative initiative if required.

With that element settled, I want to focus briefly on the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ of such activity. 

Concerning the ‘who’, my appeal to those elaborating the detail of the EU Cancer Mission and potential Masterplan, is to never forget that the combat of cancer is conducted across many fronts. It therefore involves a very wide range of stakeholders, including the panoply of healthcare professions represented within ECCO, too numerous to list in this short article. The contribution of every oncology-related healthcare profession in achieving missions and goals in cancer must be fully considered. 

Then in respect to the ‘how’, an EU Cancer Mission and potential Masterplan is a chance for meaningful EU engagement with the public that must not be missed. Any review of charity donations testifies to the wide desire by citizens for more to be done against cancer sooner. An ambitious EU initiative on cancer will be energised by summoning that public will:

  • to ensure the public resources required for research breakthroughs can safely be put in place, 
  • to improve the environment for achieving legislative actions around matters such as data sharing and protecting cancer survivors from financial discrimination, 
  • to bring about the fullest participation of all EU countries within European-wide cancer collaborations.

In summary, the exciting scientific times we live in, in respect to cancer treatment, are getting more exciting politically too. Whoever is the next EU Commission President has the potential to achieve a wonderful legacy – to finally unleash the full force of EU cooperation towards improving cancer care and treatment.

That would be a record for any politician to be proud of.

‘Putting a person on the moon’: How to deliver mission orientated cancer activity’ will be an opening session of this year’s ECCO 2019 European Cancer Summit, 12-14 September 2019. More information at


Article published in Cancer World Summer 2019 edition.

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