We often see somber headlines about how cancer remains the second leading cause of death worldwide. It caused nearly 1.3 million deaths in the EU in 2020.1 Yet we often forget that the science to beat cancer is advancing at unprecedented speed.
Cancer screening and more effective treatment have helped reduce mortality, and new technologies such as liquid biopsy and some early-stage interventions will reinforce this trend. Between 2012 and 2018 alone, more than 118 cancer drugs with 164 indications were approved in Europe.2
These advances allow us to envision an optimistic future where cancer is detected and treated as early as possible, giving everyone the greatest chance of a cancer-free life. In this vision, “early” cancer care—early detection, including screening and diagnosis, and early treatment, including timely referral and access to care—is crucial.
Between 2012 and 2018 alone, more than 118 cancer drugs with 164 indications were approved in Europe.
It’s time to prioritize “early”
Thanks to new detection methods, cancers such as breast and prostate are increasingly diagnosed early, but the overall results remain mixed. In other cancers, such as lung, colorectal, or pancreatic cancer, most patients have advanced disease at the time of initial diagnosis.3
Cancer patients have the best chance of becoming and staying cancer-free when diagnosed and treated early: 98% of breast cancer patients will survive for five years or more if diagnosed at the stage the earliest, compared to only 26% of patients diagnosed at the latest. advanced stage.4 90% of lung cancer patients will survive for at least a year if diagnosed at stage one, but only 20% will survive when diagnosed at stage four.5 The recommendations proposed by the Council on cancer screening – in particular, to improve existing programs for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer, while extending screening to lung, prostate and stomach – reflect the latest diagnostic and technological advances and represent a step in the right direction.
“Early” cancer care — early detection, including screening and diagnosis, and early treatment, including timely referral and access to care — is critical.
Health systems need to prepare
As science and technology develop, health care systems must keep pace. Shifting patient journeys, healthcare financing and health management towards early cancer care will not only save more lives, but will also prove more cost-effective by reducing the need for more expensive treatments and at an advanced stage, as well as reducing recurrences and cancer. associated symptoms. Even when health care budgets are stretched, governments that prioritize early cancer care can maintain a stable level of cancer health spending while improving survival rates.
98% of breast cancer patients will survive for five years or more if diagnosed at the earliest stage.
knowledge is power
People’s ability to access and understand health information — their health literacy — plays a critical role in their health outcomes. Those who get checked out as soon as they notice a possible symptom and are confident in evaluating all of their care options are more likely to make sound health decisions.
Even when health care budgets are stretched, governments that prioritize early cancer care can maintain a stable level of cancer health spending while improving survival rates.
Improving cancer knowledge would help increase patients’ understanding of new technologies and medical terms, leading to better management of their own health. In this endeavor, we must recognize the distinct cultural, linguistic and social factors that affect individuals and communities. In other words, health coaching must meet them where they are.
Europe’s plan to fight cancer is just the start
The European Cancer Plan and Cancer Mission have generated momentum towards better and fairer cancer care. We—health and finance policymakers, medical professionals, patient advocacy groups, and the private sector—have a long way to go to build consensus on early cancer care. We are delighted to see this consensus beginning to form at the recent European Cancer Forum in Brussels.
In the meantime, we cannot rest. I hope that joint commitment and collective action will lead to increased focus and radical prioritization of early cancer care in the cancer plan to be reviewed by the European Commission by the end of 2024.
 European Cancer Information System, Estimates of cancer incidence and mortality in 2020, all countries; accessed November 2022
 Hofmarcher, T. et al. (2019) Comparative European Cancer Report 2019, IHE Report 2019:7. IHE: Lund, Sweden
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2021), Incidence and Relative Survival by Stage at Diagnosis for Common Cancers; accessed November 2022
 Cancer Research UK, breast cancer statistics; accessed November 2022
 Cancer Research UK, Why is early diagnosis important? ; accessed November 2022
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