The EU and Breast Cancer Policies
The European Union (EU) has taken more action on cancer than on any other public health issue to date. Over the past 30 years, in recognition of cancer’s heavy emotional and societal burden, the EU has adopted a series of cancer-control policy initiatives.
Although most of the EU initiatives on health remain at a horizontal or more general level, cancers with higher mortality rates – including breast cancer – have received targeted action in recent years. Until now, early-stage breast cancer has been the primary focus of EU policy initiatives and research funding.
For the key EU policy milestones on breast cancer to date, please see below as well as the downloadable PDF.
European Commission initiatives
The European Commission has long supported strong cancer-control policies and close coordination among Member States. In 2006, the Commission adopted the European Guidelines for Assurance in Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis to promote best practices from regional and national breast cancer screening programmes and establish a certification protocol for diagnostic and screening units. In 2012, the Commission launched an Initiative on Breast Cancer (ECIBC), which envisaged the development of a new version of the European Guidelines as well as the development of a voluntary European Quality Assurance (QA) scheme for breast cancer services based on EU legislation. More recently, the Commission created the Expert Group on Cancer Control to assist with drawing up legal instruments, policy documents, guidelines, and recommendations on cancer control, including in matters of the ECIBC. In 2014, as a follow-up to the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer (EPAAC), the European Commission launched and entrusted the Joint Action on Cancer Control (CANCON), with the development of the European Guide on Quality Improvement in Comprehensive Cancer Control. Other initiatives include the funding allocated to breast cancer research in the context of the former Research Framework Programmes.
Council of the European Union and European Parliament initiatives
The Council and the EU member states called for population-wide screening for a number of cancers, including breast cancer, in 2003. The European Parliament supported this motion and continued to call on governments to support multidisciplinary teams and provide treatment to all women, including by establishing a network of certified multidisciplinary specialised breast centres/units (SBUs). The SBU network was intended to strengthen EU members’ efforts in breast-cancer R&D, prevention, screening, management, and treatment, as well as to ensure the implementation of screening programmes and the collection of reliable data. In 2015, the European Parliament adopted a Written Declaration on the Fight against Breast Cancer, which specifically acknowledges metastatic breast cancer (MBC). In line with previous policy initiatives, this declaration calls for women with MBC to “have access to and be treated in an SBU,” and indicates that MBC patients’ “ongoing needs for care and psychosocial services should be coordinated and supported by the SBU as per the EU Guidelines”.
What comes next?
The EU’s policies have acted as a catalysing factor for the significantly improved outlook of European women with breast cancer. Moving forward and capitalizing on the success of these measures, much can and should be done at a policy level to raise awareness of MBC, address the unmet needs of women living with MBC and their families, and facilitate access to support, care and treatment options.
For further information and a list of references, please see the downloadable PDF at the top of the page.