Policy, oncology

Call for mass screening in Europe to prevent 200,000 deaths from colon cancer

19 May 2007

Brussels, Belgium and Munich, Germany. Leading European scientists, physicians and politicians have called for national action plans to screen for colon cancer to prevent the 200,000 deaths per year from colon cancer in Europe.

Virtually all colon and rectal cancers can be either prevented or cured by removal of adenomas and by detection and subsequent removal of the cancers in their early stages.

In 2003, the EU Commission recommended all member states launch comprehensive colon and rectal cancer screening programmes on a national scale, but only some countries have implemented such a programme, and not all those have been implemented successfully. This means that inaction by member states has caused up to 800,000 unnecessary deaths in Europe since 2003.

The call for action, the Brussels Declaration for the Prevention of Colon Cancer Across Europe, was the outcome of the conference, The Future of Health in Europe, hosted by the Felix Burda Foundation and attended by more than 200 participants from 29 countries.

The Declaration lays out a roadmap to establish the foundation for an EU-wide guideline and the introduction of large-scale colorectal cancer screening programmes in the pan-European fight against the disease.

The Declaration calls upon the Commission to implement an action plan entitled, Europe Against Colon Cancer, and the colon cancer prevention guidelines, based on best practice examples, and to make compliance compulsory for all EU member states.

Further proposals include the establishment of a pan-European network against colon cancer and the provision of support for the implementation and continuous improvement of quality-assured and controlled national screening programmes.

The declaration highlights the lack of action taken by member states since the 2003 recommendation: "Until now, no more than about half of the member states have followed with this recommendation, either by introducing a national screening programme or by conducting preliminary studies for its eventual launch.

"Scope and quality of the existing programmes vary widely as do their success rates. In several countries, too few people have made use of the screening opportunities provided to make a significant impact on the incidence and mortality rates of CRC.

"Participation numbers have been highest where a central agency and a call/recall system were established to target people from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds. In some countries, the performance of the screening test in a decentralized and non-standardized fashion has generated significant error rates.

Experience clearly shows that error rates are smallest in countries that have evaluated their tests in a central laboratory facility in compliance with defined quality standards. In other countries, screening results have not been centrally compiled and evaluated, making it impossible to judge the effectiveness of the screening programme."

Karolina Gernbauer, Assistant Secretary of State and Head of the Bavarian EU Representation in Brussels, who opened the conference, emphasized the urgency of the issue: "Colon cancer has become the most common newly diagnosed cancer in Europe", she said, "contracted, every year, by more than 400,000 citizens across Europe — an alarming and terrifyingly high number which could be drastically cut if we made full use of our arsenal in combating this disease. Colon cancer, after all, can be more easily treated than most other cancers, provided it is recognised and dealt with at an early stage."

Christa Maar, President of the Felix Burda Foundation, explained why it was so important to combat this illness: "While colon cancer is the most common cancer and one of the most fatal types of the disease in Europe, this is one fight that we can win. Early recognition is the key to nearly total prevention."


Each year in Europe alone, more than 400,000 people are newly diagnosed with colon cancer while 212,000 people are dying from the disease unnecessarily. Nearly all of these fatalities could be prevented by early recognition. Only a few European countries have so far implemented a nationwide colon cancer screening programme, even though all countries in the EU are afflicted by similarly high colon cancer incidence and mortality rates and the recommendation from the European Commission to introduce nationwide colon cancer screening programmes in all member states — to complement similar programmes for breast and cervical cancer — dates back to the year 2003.

The "European Conference on Colon Cancer Prevention 2007" took place under the patronage of the German EU Council Presidency and the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer (UICC). It was supported by all major European cancer charities such as the IDCA.

The conference was organised in close cooperation with the Brussels office of the Hanns Seidel Foundation and has been made possible by generous support from the Olympus Medical Systems Europa GmbH, the Nürnberg Messe GmbH and Siemens Medical Solutions.

Further information

The Brussels Declaration for the Prevention of Colon Cancer Across Europe

Information about the conference and other information
www.future-health-2007.com  or www.colon-cancer-europe.com 

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