Citizens frequently turn to the European Parliament to ask what the European Union is doing to fight cancer.
Cancer is the second cause of death in the European Union, after cardiovascular diseases. As far back as 1985, the European Union has been fighting the causes and consequences of cancer, even though the main responsibility for health policies lies primarily at national level. Thanks to the dedication of its Members, the European Parliament has passed legislation and made funding available that have helped improve national action plans on the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The EU has also invested in cancer research.
Members of the European Parliament against cancer
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have shown a genuine interest in the fight against cancer. They hold informal discussions in cross-party groupings such as the Cancer Intergroup (see the list of Members) and ‘MEPs Against Cancer (MAC) Interest Group’.
In June 2020, the European Parliament set up a Special Committee on Beating Cancer (see related press release). The main objective of the Special Committee is to enable the EU to take concrete actions on tackling cancer and its effects on people’s lives. Its work includes identifying legislation and other measures that can help prevent and combat cancer, and looking into the best ways to support research. The final report including findings and suggestions is expected to be adopted by the end of 2021.
The European Union has put in place many measures to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment outcomes of cancer, such as:
Patient’s safety and treatment
- Improving healthcare systems, through standards on patient safety and quality of care and rules on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare.
- Promoting cancer screening in the EU.
- Maintaining safety and quality standards of pharmaceuticals: rules on clinical trials of medicinal products and law on safety standards in EU clinical trials; rules on the authorisation, import and production of medicines; law on medicinal products for paediatric use; rules on safe production of medicines and experimental treatment.
- Ensuring health security for blood, tissues and organs.
- Introducing tighter rules on tobacco, including rules on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and smoke-free environments.
- Guaranteeing a safe workplace: rules limiting the exposure of workers to asbestos, to carcinogens and mutagens, to chemical agents, to artificial optical radiation, to biological agents, and to risks from electromagnetic fields.
Diet and lifestyle
- Regulating nutrition and health claims made on foods.
- Making food supplements available in the EU safe.
- Reducing obesity (including childhood obesity) by promoting a healthy diet and activity, and healthy lifestyles.
- Reducing the use of endocrine disruptors: law on safe and effective fertilisers, pesticide safety, pesticide residues in human food, safe biocides, and rules on fighting water pollution from agricultural nitrates.
- Regulating foods for infants, young children and special medical purposes, as well as total diet replacement for weight control.
- Ensuring high quality foods: law on food safety from farm to fork; law on the labelling of foodstuffs; law on traceability and labelling of GMOs; law on food additives; laws on chemicals and contaminants (e.g. acrylamid, mercury, hormones, residues).
- Implementing rules on cleaner air for Europe and limiting pollutants in the air, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust particles from medium combustion plants, volatile organic compounds (more details here).
- Preserving forests with an EU Forest Strategy: timber law combatting illegal logging and a plan preventing deforestation.
- Promoting cleaner road transports: law on cleaner fuels; law on reducing pollution from cars and vans; emission performance standards and fuel consumption standards for heavy-duty vehicles (e.g. tractors, trailers); rules on clean and energy-efficient road transport vehicles.
- Promoting cleaner water-based transports’ rules on safer and less polluting equipment on EU ships; strategy on inland waterway
- Setting up public-private partnerships to develop cleaner aircraft and to boost research and innovation in rail.
Cancer: EU budget for 2021-2027
In February 2021, the European Commission published its vision for the fight against cancer in ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer plan’. It aims to reduce inequalities between and within EU countries regarding screening, access to treatment, and social/financial support for patients after recovery. It has its own budget of €4 billion and will finance, amongst others: establishing an EU network of youth cancer survivors, addressing fair access for cancer survivors to financial services (including insurance), updating the 2003 Council recommendation on cancer screening and updating the European code against cancer.
In March 2021, the European Parliament also approved the EU4Health programme, which covers the 2021-2027 period with a budget of €5.1 billion (see press release); €1.25 billion of which will be allocated to the Beating Cancer plan.
- Cancer: What Europe does for me – #EUandME, European Parliament
- World Cancer Day: how the EU is fighting cancer, European Parliament
- Europe’s Beating Cancer plan: Quick overview and initial reactions, European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), Briefing, March 2021
- Europe’s Beating Cancer plan – Pre-legislative synthesis of national, regional and local positions on the European Commission proposal, European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), Briefing, November 2020
- Alcohol labelling – European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), Briefing, April 2021
- Cancer, European Commission
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