Suzanne Wait - The Health Policy Partnership

Suzanne Wait

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan offers hope for the future of cancer care

12 February 2021

graphic of the EU flag and person icon and the sky

The eagerly awaited Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan includes several crucial themes in improving cancer care.

In these days where any future planning seems stifled by the uncertainties of the present, the long-awaited publication of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan presents a welcome opportunity to look forward to how to the European Commission plans to improve cancer care across Europe in the years to come.

At HPP, we were delighted to see included in the plan many of the core themes we are working on.

Early detection and screening

The plan recognises that early detection through screening ‘offers the best chance of beating cancer and saving lives’. It proposes to gather evidence on how to optimise performance of existing cancer screening programmes, with the aim of ensuring that 90% of the EU population who qualify for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings are offered screening by 2025. It will also look to novel approaches to screening, including targeted screening of cancers such as prostate, lung and gastric cancer.

Screening is just one component of early detection, however, and the Commission will launch the ‘Genomics for Public Health’ project to develop applications of genomics in personalised risk assessment and targeted cancer prevention efforts.

woman working in a shop standing behind service counter

The plan has included the need for social policies that enable people with cancer to stay in work or return to work after their treatment.

A multidisciplinary approach to cancer care

The plan takes a broad view of cancer treatment, looking beyond medicinal approaches and focusing on breaking down siloes between different specialties. It will launch an ‘Inter-specialty cancer training programme’ in 2021, which aims to deliver a more skilled and mobile cancer workforce through cross-border training and information-sharing across oncology, surgery and radiotherapy. It will also support the education of medical professionals in radiology, radiotherapy and nuclear medicine, to enable better integration of these specialties and treatment options in multidisciplinary care teams and treatment plans.

Social policies to support people with cancer

The plan also looks at cancer as a chronic condition, and has included the need for social policies that enable people with cancer to stay in work, or return to work after their treatment – this was a strong recommendation from the All.Can patient survey, which we helped develop in 2019.

Finally, the plan puts a strong emphasis on reducing inequalities in cancer prevention and care and proposes to establish a Cancer Inequalities Registry to identify trends, disparities and inequalities between member states and regions across all aspects of cancer care, including prevention. This emphasis is particularly warranted given the growing chasm in social inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restoring pre-pandemic care

To end on a sobering note, in our excitement over what these plans can bring, we cannot forget what damage must be undone due to the extensive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer patients. Many healthcare systems are still struggling to restore cancer care to pre-pandemic levels and deal with the backlog of patients left undiagnosed or untreated. In the UK alone, it is estimated that more than 650,000 people have experienced some disruption to their cancer treatment and around 50,000 cancer diagnoses have been missed. Sadly, this backlog will also manifest itself in more deaths: it has been suggested that we may see a 20% increase in cancer deaths as a result of the pandemic (UK data). And this backlog in cancer referrals and screening could grow by up to 4,000 missing diagnoses every month if the backlog continues. The urgency to put into action the noble ambitions of the Beating Cancer Plan across all countries, within and outside of the EU, could not be greater.


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.