On February 16, the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) officially approved its final report on strengthening the European Union’s role in fighting the disease. Experts believe that successful implementation of the report’s recommendations could act as a model for addressing other non-communicable diseases, and serve as a first step towards the creation of a European Health Union.
The report is the culmination of an approximately 18 month effort begun in June 2020. A comprehensive analysis and consultation with hundreds of medical and policy experts and multiple national parliaments enabled BECA members to get up to speed on the latest developments in cancer, from scientific understanding of the disease to recent advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Other public health issues such as health care equity and access to care were highlighted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The information and recommendations provided by those consulted helped inform BECA’s draft policy statement, issued in December 2021 and now formally adopted by the Committee.
The final report offers a 360 degree approach to addressing cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, with an emphasis on ensuring equitable access to quality care, including continued support for cancer survivors and their families.
Notable recommendations of the plan include:
- A Strong Emphasis on Cancer Prevention
The report recognizes the many behavioral, biological, environmental, work-related, socio-economic and commercial factors that might drive cancer risk, and calls for effective measures at both the national and EU level to better understand and address them. The recommendations specifically include a call for additional funding to encourage smoking cessation and to reduce or prevent alcohol-related harm. The report also calls for mandatory and harmonized EU nutritional labels for foods and for setting occupational exposure limits for several dozen known carcinogens.
- Focus on Diagnostics and Screening
Another key focus of BECA recommendations is improving access to cancer screening and early diagnosis of cancer, including the use of AI analytics methods and next-generation sequencing of tumors to facilitate innovative personalized medicine approaches to treatment. The report specifically calls for adding expanding cancer screening beyond the current practice for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers and new EU-supported screening schemes for additional cancer types.
- Equal Access to Cancer Care and Clinical Trials Across Borders
The report calls for reform of the existing legislative framework to facilitate cancer patient mobility and access to specialized medical care across borders within the Union. The authors further recommend the development of a single set of rules to authorize and reimburse cross-border care, including the right of cancer patients to obtain a second opinion. The report also endorses the greater sharing of data, expertise, training and communication between member states.
- An EU-Wide Approach to Addressing Medicine Shortages and Affordability
BECA recommends an increase in the use of joint procurement procedures (i.e., negotiation and procurement of drugs at EU level, vs. country level), especially for rare, pediatric and novel cancer medications and treatments. It also calls for diversification of the supply chain for drugs and medical products, and their components. Since the COVID-19 pandemic revealed pain points in the reliable supply of drugs, BECA’s report encourages member states to monitor shortages more closely and to create strategic stockpiles of critical medications.
- The “Right to Be Forgotten”
With the aim of addressing potential situations, wherein insurers, banks, or other institutions might discriminate based on an individual’s medical history, the report recommends that the “Right to be Forgotten” be extended to all EU cancer patients at 10 years following the end of their treatment (and after 5 years for patients diagnosed with cancer before age 18).
Other Notable Recommendations:
Further BECA recommendations include greater support for research and education pertaining to cancer. Additional support for training in the sciences and in medicine is also recommended, including the increased promotion of scientific careers for women.
The European Health Directorate will now direct the implementation of BECA’s recommendations, with 4 billion Euros currently allocated to that process.