Foreword

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic’s global upheaval, longstanding disease threats return to the forefront of the healthcare policy agenda. Foremost among these – and long considered the most daunting – is cancer, which is set to become the leading cause of death in the 27 European Union (EU) Member States, Norway and Iceland (EU+2 countries) by 2035. The cancer context today is multi-faceted. Longstanding behavioural, metabolic and environmental risk factors drive about 40% of cancer cases. In parallel, emerging screening innovations are capitalising on artificial intelligence and genomic advances, while the cost of new cancer pharmaceuticals is skyrocketing. This complex scenario is compounded by challenges in the healthcare workforce and evolving organisational care models. Moreover, large disparities are evident through the entire cancer pathway: from prevalence of cancer risk factors to cancer outcomes. These disparities exist not only across but also within countries, varying by region, gender and socio-economic status.

With Europe home to a quarter of the world’s cancer cases, in 2021 the EU launched the ambitious, multi-faceted Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to address the full disease pathway via partnerships, research and innovation. One of the ten flagship initiatives of the Plan, the European Cancer Inequalities Registry, is designed to measure and assess inequalities in cancer. Under this umbrella, the OECD and European Commission have published a series of Country Cancer Profiles for each of the EU+2 countries (www.oecd.org/health/eu-cancer-profiles.htm), and have produced this flagship report.

Beating Cancer Inequalities in the EU: Spotlight on Cancer Prevention and Early Detection provides cross-country comparisons and policy perspectives on major cancer risk factors, screening programmes and early diagnoses. It also addresses issues related to provision of high-quality cancer care, with a focus on disparities by region, socio-economic status and gender. The report uses a mix of quantitative and qualitative analyses, including information collected through a policy survey covering 26 countries, consultations with stakeholders and country-specific experts, and an in-depth literature review. It emphasises the need for comprehensive policy packages aimed at cancer prevention and identifies targeted interventions that have proved effective in reducing disparities among different population groups in terms of cancer risk factors, screening and early diagnosis.

A key aspect of many such initiatives is improving knowledge, awareness and accessibility of healthier lifestyles and cancer screening programmes among vulnerable populations. This requires ensuring that prevention and screening initiatives reach people where they live, work and play. It involves designing health-promoting communities and environments, engaging primary care physicians and local pharmacies, and implementing mobile vaccination and screening units. As with the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is great potential for international collaboration in battling cancer. For EU+2 counties, such partnerships begin with sharing country-specific initiatives and best practices, as described in this report. They continue with alignment of fiscal policies and regulations on a range of cancer risk factors; assessment and prioritisation of new cancer pharmaceuticals; and planning of innovative care systems.

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