EU health chief says cancer screenings must double


BRUSSELS (Reuters), Jan 23 - Europe needs to conduct twice as many cancer screenings to prevent death rates from the disease from climbing as the population ages, the European Union's health commissioner said on Thursday.

Every year, 3.2 million Europeans are diagnosed with cancer, with breast cancer accounting for 30% of deaths from the disease in women, far more than cervical cancer with 3%.

Colorectal cancers account for about 13% of cancer deaths in both men and women.

"With an ageing population, the figures are due to increase, unless preventive measures are taken to reduce cancer deaths," the European Commission said in a statement. In 2003, EU health ministers issued recommendations for countries to carry out minimum numbers of cancer screenings. The commission, in its first situation report since then, said less than half of those screenings took place in the EU each year.

"In these times of financial uncertainty, we need to recognize, more than ever, the importance of planning for a healthy future," EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said in the statement.

"Investing in cancer screening programs will pay long-term dividends, as prevention is the most efficient and cost-effective way to minimize the European burden of cancer."

The ministers recommended about 125 million examinations per year to all EU citizens of appropriate age.

In 2007, the report said, around 55 million people attended screening programs for breast, cervical, or colorectal cancer. The majority of those examinations were given for cervical cancer, at around 32 million, with roughly 12 million screenings apiece for breast and colorectal cancer.

Cancer cases are distributed fairly unevenly across the EU.

For example, with breast cancer, Belgium has the highest incidence while Denmark has the highest mortality rate. Romania has the lowest incidence and Spain the lowest mortality rate.

Last Updated: 2009-01-22 12:22:15 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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