“We know that early diagnosis saves lives and improves quality of life“, says the Commissioner for Health, the Cypriot Stella Kyriakides. The European Commission today recommended that all Member States advance breast cancer screening to include women of ages between 45 and 74 years (instead of the current age group of 50-69). Brussels also calls for expanding early detection tests for lung, prostate and gastric cancer.
In the European Union, an estimated 2.7 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2020. According to the latest estimates, one in two EU citizens will develop cancer in their lifetime and only half of cancer patients will survive. The Community Executive considers that the early diagnostic thanks to population-based screening offers the best chance of beating cancer and saving lives.
The EU has already had recommendations for cancer screening since 2003, which “have demonstrated their success” in improving tests and guaranteeing easier access. However, in the intervening two decades much has changed, which is why Brussels proposes to update these guidelines to reflect the latest scientific data available and the most recent technological advances.
The objective of the European Plan to Fight Cancer is that, by 2025, 90% of the population of the Union that meets the requirements to undergo screening for breast, cervical or colorectal cancer has access to such screening. It also aims to expand selective screening to include other cancers, such as prostate, lung and gastric cancer.
“Our new recommendations, based on scientific evidence and the excellence developed in cancer research over the last twenty years, will strengthen our action across the EU to act quickly and close the gap created by the impact of Covid-19 in cancer diagnosis and care,” says Kyriakides.
What are the main changes introduced with respect to the 2003 recommendations? In the first place, Brussels plans to expand breast cancer screening (which is currently carried out on women between 50 and 69 years of age), to include women aged between 45 and 74 years. The Commission also advises the Member States to study specific diagnostic measuressuch as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for women with especially dense breasts.
Second, community executive rrecommends that they be carried out screening tests of the human papilloma virus (HPV) in women between 30 and 65 years old, every 5 years or more, to screen for cervical cancer, taking into account HPV vaccination status.
Third, Brussels ask to be done colorectal cancer screening for people ages 50 to 74 by faecal immunochemical testing (rather than screening by faecal occult blood testing), in order to determine if an endoscopy or colonoscopy is needed later.
Lung cancer is the first of the three that have been added for selective screening. The community executive recommends that you enter a screening for current and former smokers aged 50-75 years who have quit smoking within the previous 15 years and have a 30-pack-year smoking history (the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 30 years).
As for the prostate cancerthe Commission is proposing that prostate-specific antigen testing (as a blood test) be introduced for men up to 70 years of age, along with an MRI scan as a follow-up test.
Finally, in countries or regions with a higher incidence of gastric cancer and a higher mortality rate from this cancerBrussels recommends introducing screening for the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which can cause ulcers and, in some cases, stomach cancer. It also recommends screening for precancerous stomach ulcers caused by other causes.
For the other cancers, the data do not yet support population-wide screening. “There are new technologies, such as blood tests to detect multiple types of cancerwhich are not yet ready for routine use, but research is progressing rapidly and the EU must be ready to introduce new methods, if the data supports them,” says Brussels.
The Community Executive hopes that the Health Ministers of the 27 will approve these recommendations at the meeting to be held in December in Brussels.
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