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European countries should band together to fight cancer to help cut the soaring costs of treating an ageing population increasingly prone to the disease, an EU report concludes.
The report said a systemic approach was critical because the number of Europeans diagnosed with cancer each year would rise 20% by 2020, due to a growing ageing population.
Last year 2.3 million people were diagnosed with cancer.
Dr Karol Sikora, medical director of state and private sector partnership body Cancer Partners UK, told a news conference: “The biggest risk factor for getting cancer is how old you are.
“Europe is ageing, and ageing very rapidly – and that is presenting huge challenges because the costs of treating cancer are rapidly increasing.”
Cancer specialists from across Europe contributed to the report, which EU health ministers will discuss in Ljubljana this week as Slovenia uses its EU presidency to highlight the disease that kills 1.7 million people a year in the region.
Tackling cancer more uniformly would also help narrow health gaps in Europe in terms of the number of people who die from and are diagnosed with cancer, according to the report.
Coordinating prevention, screening and treatment efforts could involve patient-centred Europe-wide research, national cancer registries in more countries and European centres aimed at improving treatment of rare cancers.
Dr Michel Coleman, a cancer researcher at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, worked on the document.
He said: “There is no question we could learn lessons from other countries in how to treat cancer patients.”
Varying cancer rates reflect a number of factors including differing lifestyles, diets, and prevention and screening programs across Europe, the report said.
For example, Hungary has the highest overall cancer rate in the EU due to a large number of lung cancer cases in a country with many smokers.
Southern European countries where people follow a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables have some of the lowest rates.
A large number of breast cancer cases make Denmark and Iceland the countries with the highest cancer rates among women, with southern European countries being the lowest.
Cancer Partners UK www.cancerpartnersuk.org