HDR UK researchers warn of European cancer epidemic in the next decade
16 December 2022
The report, published in Lancet Oncology, warns that the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to set back European cancer outcomes by almost a decade, with an estimated one million cancer diagnoses missed across Europe in the last two years.
The report entitled ‘European Groundshot – addressing Europe’s cancer research challenges: a Lancet Oncology Commission’, is a major re-examination of the present state of European cancer research and its future and was led by Professor Mark Lawler, Director of HDR UK Wales and Northern Ireland.
The report emphasises that prioritising cancer research is absolutely critical for European countries to deliver more affordable, higher quality, and more equitable cancer care, with patients treated in research-active hospitals having better outcomes than those who are not.
Professor Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health, and Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast and UK Chair and lead author of the Commission, comments: “With the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is more important than ever that Europe develops a resilient cancer research landscape to play a transformative role in improving prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and quality-of-life for current and future patients and those living beyond cancer.
“We estimate that approximately one million cancer diagnoses were missed across Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now in a race against time to find those missing cancers. Additionally, we saw a chilling effect on cancer research with laboratories shut down and clinical trials delayed or cancelled in the first pandemic wave. We are concerned that Europe is heading towards a cancer epidemic in the next decade if cancer health systems and cancer research are not urgently prioritised. Our European Groundshot Commission provides crucial findings on the current landscape of cancer research, exposes the key gaps, and demands the prioritisation of European cancer research agendas over the next decade.”
The European Groundshot Commission analysed data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across Europe and found that clinicians saw 1·5 million fewer patients with cancer in the first year of the pandemic, with one in two patients with cancer not receiving surgery or chemotherapy in a timely manner.
Additionally, 100 million cancer screening tests were missed, and it is estimated that up to one million European citizens might have an undiagnosed cancer due to the cancer backlog.
Professor Sullivan, Professor of Cancer & Global Health at King’s College London and a co-author on the report, said: “UK cancer research in the post-Brexit world stands at a crossroads where strategic decisions will determine whether we continue to thrive and partner internationally or whether isolationism will reduce our world standing.
Adds Professor Lawler “If the UK is not involved in EU collaborative cancer research and not part of Horizon Europe’s research community, this will have an extremely detrimental effect on European cancer research activity. Ultimately, patients with cancer will the pay the price for this decision in terms of health-care outcomes.”
Prof Sullivan adds “I hope that the findings and recommendations in this report will help the European cancer research community as they work towards a more equitable agenda where all citizens and patients, no matter where they live, will benefit equally from advances in cancer research.
Professor Lawler adds: “Gathering data and turning them into cancer intelligence has been our North Star in this Commission. Too often, opinion, even expert opinion, has trumped data in the implementation of cancer research policies. Simply continuing to dedicate resource and effort to a narrow research agenda is no longer desirable or viable: we must follow the data and act on what they reveal. We have an unrivalled opportunity to reimagine cancer research and its implementation so as to achieve our ambitious 70:35 Vision, an average of 70% 10-year survival for patients treated for cancer in Europe by 2035. Let’s grasp this opportunity.”
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