Today is World Cancer Day. The European Commission marked the day by presenting Europe’s Cancer Plan at an event inside the European Parliament in Brussels. The event was supported by the MEPs Against Cancer Interest Group. This is an ideal moment to reflect upon the fact that, although the European Union has a strong history in its commitment to defeating cancer, we still have many challenges to overcome.
The event in the Parliament brought together many stakeholders, ranging from political leaders, representatives from international organisations, health ministries, leading academics, scientists and health professionals, the private sector and NGOs. They also heard from cancer patients and survivors, who shared their personal testimonials. The event ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: Let’s Strive for More’ also saw the European Commission start the public consultation of the plan.
The alarming fact is that a new case of cancer is diagnosed in the EU every nine seconds. After cardiovascular disease, it is the second leading cause of mortality. As well as the personal tragedy it can bring to many families, this disease also strains our health and social systems, our national budgets, productivity and economic growth. When we stop to consider this impact, it is clear that tackling this disease is a major priority across our continent.
It is clear prevention is key. We know that 40 percent of all cancers can be prevented if we implement the knowledge that we have about the disease. It is for this reason that European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen tasked Stella Kyrikaides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, with launching the impressive cancer plan we are seeing in her mission letter. The Plan will propose actions at every key stage of the disease. Central to the plan will be prevention, which can include lifestyle, pollution and vaccination. The other pillars include early diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, or follow-up care.
Harvard Medical School is an excellent place to start as we look for a framework on a personal level that can help prevent cancer occurring in the first place. That guidance for individuals can also help us create the Europe-wide policies that will help to beat the disease. Harvard Medical School’s guidance, their ‘Ten Commandments’, include avoiding tobacco in all its forms (including second-hand smoke), healthy eating, regular exercise, weight management, if you choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake to one drink per day, avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation, avoid infections that contribute to cancer such as hepatitis viruses or HPV, prioritise sleep, get enough Vitamin D and avoid exposure to industrial and environmental toxins such as benzene, aromatic amines, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos fibres.
Regarding exposure to toxins, here at EU Today we published a report in 2018 that concluded that Europe should take a close look at the potential health risks, not only of asbestos, but manmade vitreous fibres (MMVF), such as mineral wool. MMVF became widely used after asbestos was banned. However, there have been calls for MMVF to be re-tested as the tests that led to it being declassified as carcinogenic at the international level, were apparently done without the binder, meaning it was not tested as it is actually sold to homeowners and construction teams. In the EU mineral wool is still generally classified as suspected carcinogen, according to the EU Classification, Labelling and Packaging Regulation 1272/2008 (CLP Regulation), where it can be found in the annex with a "Carc. 2" classification, which means suspected human carcinogens (see Table 3.6.1).
The MMVF industry has certified their material under the "Q note", which allows for certain exemptions. It is the view of EU Today that this situation, along with the medical issues highlighted in our report, merits a re-testing of the material as it is sold.
We are probably only at the beginning of understanding some of the health risks we are exposed to in our homes and at workplaces. Examining these should form part of Europe’s cancer prevention work.
The Europe Beating Cancer Plan will be linked to other priorities of the new Commission and has the support of Members of the European Parliament, Member States and stakeholders who work together with the Commission to improve cancer prevention and care in Europe. It is important that we all work together to ensure that every method of prevention is pursued.