Combating cancer in Europe

Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, today pledged to strengthen WHO’s technical capacity and role in the field of cancer. She made the pledge to health ministers from European Union (EU) countries at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

Cancer is the second most important cause of death in the WHO European Region. It accounts for 20% of all deaths in the Region, with 2.5 million new cases diagnosed each year. WHO data show that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality by far, causing nearly twice as many deaths as breast, colorectal or stomach cancer.

Strengthening collaboration to improve cancer outcomes

WHO/Europe lists primary prevention, early detection and research – including behavioural research – as the keys to developing an effective public health strategy on cancer.

Because cancer shares common risk factors with other noncommunicable diseases – such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes – WHO/Europe promotes an integrated approach to prevention and health promotion. Integration provides an umbrella for strategies and action plans to make healthy choices easier for Europeans, particularly on tobacco, food and nutrition, alcohol, environment and health, obesity and physical activity.

Early detection of cancer is vital. In the past three years, WHO/Europe has worked with policy-makers from over 40 countries to develop screening programmes for cervical cancer. This work is underpinned by broader work to strengthen health systems and improve quality assurance systems. While most European countries have screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer, screening for other types is only starting to appear.

Research – including study of the interaction of genes, lifestyle and environment – must be stimulated and supported to ensure best practice in health services. In this regard, WHO/Europe plans to work more closely with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Behavioural research is especially needed, as lifestyle choices can help prevent most cancer types. Such research needs to be complemented by research on the social determinants of health, as unhealthy lifestyles are strongly associated with social and economic disadvantage.

Open channels for concerted action

WHO/Europe will play a strong role giving technical guidance in the field of cancer, but looks for collaboration with other stakeholders, including the EU and WHO Member States, to carry out action plans at the country level.

Developing joint strategies (including the exchange of best practices, coordinated research and policy formulation, and transparent collaboration among all stakeholders) will improve cancer outcomes and population health throughout the European Region.