Not so long ago, the story goes, a person was far more likely to die from heart disease. Now cancer has replaced cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of premature death in 28 of 53 European nations.
An increasing social problem
The disparities in cancer mortality have their roots in inequalities in health between European countries and even in regions of the same country. During the last few years, the economic crisis in Europe has exacerbated the already existing health inequalities, depriving cancer patients of the care that they need.
The increasing cancer burden that we experience in Europe will have a profound impact not only on patients and their families, but it will also be a significant challenge for our healthcare systems and for the future economic competitiveness of Europe.
When I first learnt about my diagnosis, my first thought was: how I will tell this shocking news to my family? But myself, I took the news about my cancer as a warning: there was something wrong in the way I lived my life.
United we can fight cancer
Cancer challenged me in many ways. Working in the European Parliament as an MEP and being able to actually address the issue, contribute with concrete actions to our fight against cancer, was inspiring. I dedicated a big share of the past ten years of my professional endeavours to make it obvious to the broader public that health is not only a matter for individual citizens, but also a concern we share as Europeans.
Together with some colleagues from the Parliament, I founded an informal group of MEPs Against Cancer (MAC), committed to promoting action on cancer as an EU priority and harnessing European health policy to that end. I am proud MAC contributed to the Council conclusions on the reduction of the burden of cancer back in 2008 and to the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer in 2009, a Joint Action which aims to support EU Member States in their efforts to tackle cancer.
When I am asked these days what it is that helps me to remain positive when fighting cancer, I have no doubts: it is the positive energy and the support I get from people that surround me.
We politicians are privileged in being able to support EU citizens and patients, in particular in their fight against cancer. But it needs political will. As an MEP I can help build that political will. Since one in three Europeans is diagnosed with a form of cancer, I consider cancer a political and social problem.
Cancer does not respect national borders, it knows no boundaries, either geographical or social – it affects all parts of our society. It is not a problem of any single nation; we must all contribute to the solution. Therefore, as Europeans we must stand together: patients, healthcare professionals, researchers, industry and politicians, united in our goal to address our common enemy – cancer.