EU throws weight behind fight against breast cancer

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EUROPEAN parliamentarians yesterday gave the green light to a European-wide breast cancer screening programme, following news that the risk of dying from the disease was twice as high in some countries.

The joint resolution was adopted in the plenary session as part of ‘International Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ and called on the European Commission to present without delay the progress report on steps taken by member states’ to lower breast cancer mortality rates.

MEPs also called for measures such as nationwide screening programmes, interdisciplinary breast units, reintegration into the job market and research into breast cancer prevention and treatment.

The resolution on actions to combat a disease that kills 88,000 women and 1,000 men in Europe every year and is the leading cause of death in women aged between 35 and 59 was adopted with 641 votes in favour, 11 against with four abstentions.

The resolution is based on three oral questions on to the European Commission by three committees (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety; Employment and Social Affairs; and Women’s Rights and Gender Equality) and follows up the European Parliament’s resolution of June 2003 which called on member states to set themselves the target of creating, by 2008, the conditions required for a 25 per cent reduction in average breast-cancer mortality rate in the EU, and of reducing to five per cent the disparity between the member states in the five-year survival rate.

Although breast cancer is the commonest cancer in women, affecting some 275,000 women in the EU every year, mortality rates very among the EU-25 by over 50 per cent and the mastectomy rate by up to 60 per cent.

AKEL MEP Adamos Adamou said the lack of treatment and coordination left millions of women’s lives to fate and pointed out that the incidence of breast cancer among EU countries varied wildly.
“It cannot be left to fate whether one survives breast cancer. Better equipment, practices and better trained staff boosts survival rates for all types of cancer,” he said.

Adamou called for an overall cancer strategy and better member state coordination. He also asked that the possibility of using structural funds in the fight against the disease be investigated.
The European parliament reiterated its call on the member states to “introduce nationwide breast screening” whereby all women aged between 50 and 69 would be offered a mammogram in line with EU guidelines at two-year intervals.

According to the WHO, mammographic screening can reduce deaths from breast cancer by up to 35 per cent in this age group.

MEP Marios Matsakis and ALDE member of the environment and public health committee noted that “breast cancer is a preventable and, in many cases curable, disease. It is entirely within our capabilities as a European Union and scientific community to bring together our collective expertise and resources to fight this cancer. It would be a disgrace to do anything less”.

EU guidelines for breast cancer screening where first drawn up in 1992, yet only 11 member states today offer nationwide mammographic screening (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and the United Kingdom).

The European parliament also called on member states to ensure nationwide provision of interdisciplinary breast centres in accordance with EU guidelines by 2016.
Treatment in such centres has been proved to raise chances of survival and to improve the quality of life, and breast cancer care of guaranteed quality leads in the medium and long term to savings for the health care system.

At present only the UK provides such centres, and even there it is not fully implemented.

During the discussion MEPs noted that specialised training of all medical staff was also essential to the quality of early detection and treatment. MEPs therefore called on the Commission to point out to the Member States to make use of the possibility to provide further training for medical personnel, in accordance with EU guidelines, via the European Social Fund.

Moreover the parliament called on the Commission to devote special attention to the problems of young women with breast cancer by providing information geared to their needs. According to statistics 35 per cent of women with breast cancer are under 55, and 12 per cent under 45 and young women are particularly affected by problems such reintegration into the employment market and inadequate financial problems and specific life-plan problems

Furthermore one fifth of former breast cancer patients do not return to work, and women who do return to work are often faced with reductions in their income. The MEPs called on the Commission to draw up a charter for the protection of the rights of breast cancer patients and chronically sick people in the workplace, with a view of requiring firms to make it possible for patients to continue in employment during their treatment and return to the employment market after it has finished.

The European parliament also called for stepped-up support for research into breast cancer prevention (including effects of harmful chemicals and environmental pollutants, nutrition, lifestyle, genetic factors, and the interaction of all these) and calls for the links between cancer and potential risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and hormones to be investigated.

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