Speech by Ms Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, on Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, in the European Parliament, in Brussels
President Von der Leyen, dear fellow Vice-Presidents and Commissioners, Honourable First Vice-President and Members, distinguished guests, friends.
I am truly delighted to welcome you today, knowing we share the same level of commitment, to seize this opportunity − to join forces and voices − to make a difference to the realities of cancer in Europe.
We are determined that − with your help - Europe's Beating Cancer Plan will translate into concrete benefits for Europe's citizens, patients and health systems.
This afternoon we are launching the consultation process.
As I have discussed with many of you − this plan aims to be as inclusive as possible.
We need to take into account the excellent work already being done and build on progress already achieved.
But we need to go further − to provide the opportunity and momentum for further change.
Many of us here have been ourselves diagnosed with cancer. However, today is not just about sharing our personal experiences. Today is about turning the personal into the political.
Today is about changing the realities for so many cancer patients across Europe and beyond.
And I have no doubt that this collective personal experience can be a powerful force for change in partnership with all others present here.
My cancer journey began in 1996, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time, though it always seems to have been part of my life story, as I had lost my mother to this disease many years earlier.
Hearing that cancer diagnosis throws you into a world of uncertainty, when everything you took for granted is no longer as it was.
And, with your turmoil comes the turmoil of all those close to you. My experience with cancer opened my eyes to what we need to do, and how we need to work towards awareness, prevention, breaking the silence and the stigma.
It showed me that all patients do not have access to optimal treatment, to affordable medicines, and to psychosocial support.
It shone a light on the discrimination faced by survivors, on the lack of palliative care facilities and the immense challenges faced by those working in the fields of rare and pediatric cancers.
So this plan is personal for me.
As I know it is personal for those of you here today, and as we know it is certainly personal for the 3.5 million people diagnosed in the EU every year.
We have heard many say that maybe we are aiming too high, maybe we will disappoint − and I can understand this.
We are aware of the challenges and the obstacles.
But, I can only assure you that this is a priority for President von der Leyen and for the Commission.
Yes, this is an ambitious plan - but now is the time to be ambitious. Now is the time for a plan that aims high and reaches far.
This plan is about partnerships.
Everyone has their own chapter in this story: doctors, nurses, patients, researchers and fundraisers, children and parents, politicians, and so many more here today.
Today is about taking this collective force and using it to drive change.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have come a long way but we still see huge inequalities across Member States.
A recent Eurostat study showed that, in one Member State, 82% of women aged 50-69 received a mammography within the last two years while in another the figure stands at 0.2%. This is a staggering difference and it is unacceptable in the EU in 2020.
This is exactly the type of problem that the Beating Cancer Plan aims to resolve.
We want to see the plan tackle every key stage of the disease - prevention, diagnosis, treatment, life as a survivor, palliative care, research and innovation.
But first, we need to identify the gaps and we need to take stock of what is already being done, and what we need to do.
We are asking for your help to connect the dots and piece together the different parts of the puzzle.
Today we know that four out of every ten cancer cases are estimated to be preventable.
We need to do more on prevention - we need to focus on tobacco control, exercise and a healthier diet and highlighting the need to increase vaccination coverage.
The new Farm to Fork strategy will help to ensure that citizens have access to affordable, healthy food.
The Cancer Plan will explore measures to reduce our exposure to carcinogens in the work place.
And - in line with the zero pollution ambition - the Plan shall address air, water and soil pollution.
We will also look into knowledge and innovation.
A very broad set of challenges laid before me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer - just like many other women and men across Europe.
Thankfully, there was also a great deal of knowledge and options available.
However, my third rendezvous with this disease involved a rare cancer.
Suddenly, I was exposed to a very different reality - one where information and answers were harder to come by.
Today, there are still too many gaps in our understanding of rare diseases and pediatric cancers.
The Beating Cancer Plan aims to fill in those blanks and provide answers where before there were none.
Innovative technologies and big data can help to unlock new prevention, diagnostic and therapeutic avenues.
And I am absolutely determined that we nurture this potential and maximise this impact.
Cancer is persistent, it's true. But so are we, and so too is science.
The Commission is already looking at incentivising innovation, and the new pharmaceutical strategy will facilitate affordable access to new therapies.
The creation of a European Health Data Space can promote data exchange and support new research.
The Horizon Europe mission on cancer is another vital part of this discussion. And I am delighted to welcome several Members of the Mission Board here today.
However − innovation is pointless unless it is accessible to patients. The Beating Cancer Plan will help to drive innovation - but it must also help to deliver it.
Today, thanks to progress in all fields cancer survival rates are increasing.
But we have to ensure that patients and survivors have a good quality of life.
We know that survivors often struggle with health insurance, mortgages or bank loans - things that many take for granted.
The result is more silence, more secrecy and more marginalisation. We have to be prepared to fight social inequalities, stigma and discrimination against survivors - wherever we find it.
With this goal in mind, the Beating Cancer Plan will look at best practices linked to social protection, psychological support, professional re-integration.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Plan will build on what has and is being achieved every day.
It will leave no stage of the cancer journey untouched.
It will be based on an extensive consultation process with stakeholders, the general public and detailed discussions with Member States.
We will launch the plan by the end of the year.
The European Parliament is a crucial partner throughout this process.
I want to thank the members of the MEPs Against Cancer Group for keeping cancer high on the political agenda. It was in fact in Cyprus that I heard EPP Chairman Manfred Weber speak passionately about having cancer as a top priority. I look forward to working closely with the soon to be established Special Committee on Cancer.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I began on a personal note and I will end in the same way.
I feel immense privilege to be standing here today.
And I am humbled, seeing this room so full of energy and ambition. But even more than that − I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility.
Over the coming months, we will all have an opportunity to rewrite the story of the game as far as cancer is concerned.
Let's make sure we grab it with two hands.
We can strip away the fear and the uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis - and replace it with determination, dignity and hope.
And in doing so, we can change the stories of so many citizens - before they have even been written.
Today is the first step on that journey.
And like the journey of each and every cancer patient − there will be twists and turns along the way.
But together, we will see this through.
We will make a difference. Because we strive for more.
Thank you for being here today.