Improving cancer screening to help beating cancer

Advances in prevention, screening, therapies, radiotherapy and surgery, are saving lives every day. As highlighted in the Science Advice for Policy by European Academies’ (SAPEA) report “Improving cancer screening in the European Union”[1], screening is a critical step in reducing the burden of cancer. For cancer patients, early diagnosis is a key determinant of timely treatment and survival outcomes.
We share SAPEA’s concerns about the devastating impact of COVID-19 on cancer screening and the importance of improving pandemic preparedness to ensure that any disruption to screening programmes is minimised in the future. As we look with apprehension and concern at the situation in Ukraine, everyone’s priority must remain to ensure patients affected by the war continue to have access to healthcare, including screening programmes.
We welcome the report recommendations on the need to improve the current screening programmes for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer and extend screening programmes to lung and prostate cancer as well as the introduction of ‘screen and treat’ strategies for reducing H.pylori infections to prevent gastric cancer in countries with high rates of the disease.
Looking ahead, it is crucial to keep screening guidelines as living guidelines under constant review, amending them as fast as possible in view of emerging evidence and new technologies, such as molecular biomarkers, liquid biopsies and artificial intelligence.
We would like to emphasise the importance of seeing screening in the context of the whole patient pathway. Following a positive screening result, it is essential to provide rapid access to diagnostic procedures and the most appropriate psychological support, treatment and care plan.
Importantly, the European Commission should put in place a robust monitoring system to identify disparities in the delivery of screening systems in EU Member States and include measures to address these in its EU4Health programme. The EFPIA Oncology Platform has been working with ECO and ECPC to define indicators for cancer care including screening and early detection and would welcome the opportunity to share insights on indicators for this monitoring framework, which should consider public awareness of cancer symptoms and available screening programs, as well as implementation and participation rates.
As an industry, we look forward to playing our part to meet the ambitions of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and ensure more lives can be saved through access to screening programmes.
[1] SAPEA, Science Advice for Policy by European Academies. (2022). Improving cancer screening in the European Union. Berlin: SAPEA.