2022 – A key year to put the fight against cancer at the top of the EU political agenda?

2022 means also the beginning of a new EU Presidency with France.
Based on France’s key milestones in public policies to fight against cancers, I expect and call for a strong focus on cancer within the political agenda of this EU French presidency.
Tensions on health care systems all over the world have led to diagnostic delays and the need to adapt the methods of care for treatments. In France, Unicancer - a hospital federation dedicated to oncology - highlights a drop of 30 %, possibly up to 50 %, in cancer diagnosis in 2020.[i] And we know what each month of delay in diagnosis and treatment represents for the prognosis of patients. Dr Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, has described[ii] the pandemic's impact on cancer treatment as "catastrophic", especially with cancers with poor prognosis, such as lung cancer. "A cancerous tumor does not stop growing for the sake of a virus: lung cancer does not wait for a pandemic to pass." as the Economist Intelligence Unit put it in a report highlighted by the 2020 European Cancer Forum and sponsored by MSD[iii]. This is why policy makers should consider the deadliest cancers - as lung cancer for instance, representing one in five of all cancer deaths in Europe - as amidst the worst global pandemic in a century.
Learning from the past, do better in the future addressing the whole cancer pathway
In France, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime minister Jean Castex have passionately endorsed France's own latest ten-year plan for defeating cancer.[iv] In fact, France has a long tradition in Cancer Plans, starting with the first plan 2003-2007, launched by President Chirac.[v] 
One of the French ten-year plan for defeating cancer main objective is to improve survival rate of cancers with poor prognosis by 2030. It aims for example the establishment of an organized screening program for lung cancer.[vi] Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the Work Program of EU4Health mirror the focus on screening, including lung cancer screening.[1] Ultimately, these approaches indicate the new frontier of tackling cancer: Treating cancer early increases the chances of survival dramatically: More than 55 out of 100 people (more than 55%) diagnosed at stage 1 will survive their cancer for 5 years or more after diagnosis but only 5 out of 100 people (almost 5%) diagnosed at stage 4 will survive their cancer for 5 years or more after they are diagnosed.[2] Early diagnosis and treatment is vital for treatment and survival.
The French plan also aims to reduce avoidable cancers – primarily those caused by smoking but also alcohol, poor diet, and lack of exercise – by 60,000 a year by 2040. This ambition should guide European objectives to improve survival rate.
Moreover, as a recent report on the European Plan to fight cancer by Veronique Trillet-Lenoir, French MEP and cancer specialist, highlights, equal access to care in cancer remains a challenge at the European level[vii]. We know from researchers that, while treatment options in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) have grown and improved recently, not least through targeted therapies and immunotherapies, access to these innovative treatments is highly uneven across Europe. Some countries such as Belgium and even Hungary enjoyed access of up to 80% while Poland, Romania and the UK had the lowest rates with 1 out of 2 people being treated.
The French EU presidency: a true opportunity to gather forces against cancer
As cancer may become within a few years the No 1 cause of death in Europe, I believe the EU ambition in tackling cancer will benefit from France’s long experience and leadership in the fight against cancer. Facing these challenges for patients, I truly hope the EU French Presidency will be a catalyzer to this end, including tackling the new frontier of treating cancer early, and will show complementarity with the European plan to fight against cancer.
[1] Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (2021);; EU4Health (2022);
[2] Cancer Research UK (2022);
[i] Unicancer, Communiqué de presse “Unicancer présente les conclusions de son étude relative aux retards de diagnostics en cancérologie », Décembre 2020.
[ii] Dr Hans Kluge. WHO Statement – Catastrophic impact of Covid-19 on cancer care. 4 February 2021, Copenhagen.
[iii] Economist Intelligence Unit. Breathing in a new era. A comparative analysis of lung cancer policies across Europe. EIU, London, 2020.
[iv] Premier Ministre. 1er Comité de pilotage de la stratégie décennale de lutte contre les cancers 2021-2030-. Paris, 5 juillet 2021.
[v] Bousquet PJ et al. (2018), Cancer care and public health policy evaluations in France: Usefulness of the national cancer cohort; PLOS ONE;
[vi] République française. Stratégie décennale de lutte contre les cancers 2021-2030, feuille de route. Février 2021.
[vii] Veronique Trillet Lenoir, Press release « A united BECA committee de defend the european cancer plan”, December 2021.

Clarisse Lhoste

Clarisse Lhoste is Managing Director of MSD in France.
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