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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Promoting cancer screening in the EU

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Promoting cancer screening in the EU

Cancer is a major disease and cause of death in Europe. The organisation and delivery of health services and medical care are national responsibilities, but the EU can complement those policies and help improve public health and tackle disease.


Council recommendation of 2 December 2003 on cancer screening (OJ L 327, 16.12.2003, pp. 34-38).



Screening makes it possible to detect cancers at an early stage, improving the chances of successful treatment. The recommendation urges EU countries to implement cancer screening programmes. It covers factors such as registering and managing screening data, monitoring the process and training of personnel. The European Commission reports on the implementation of these programmes, encourages national authorities to cooperate on research and best practice and helps develop guidelines on cancer screening.


  • Two Commission reports on implementation of the 2003 recommendation confirm that much progress has been made.
  • All but four of the 28 EU countries had a national cancer control plan in place before 2013.
  • In 2014, the Commission set up a cancer control expert group to assist and advise it in this area.
  • An initiative to produce a European guide on quality improvement in comprehensive cancer control was launched in 2014.
  • A fourth version of the European code against cancer is being produced.
  • European guidelines exist forbreast (2013), cervical (2007, updated in 2014) and colorectal (2010) cancer. According to current projections, well over 500 million screenings for these 3 cancers will have been carried out between 2010 and 2020.
  • The Commission is developing a quality assurance scheme for breast cancer services.
  • Between 2007 and 2014, the EU invested over €1.4 billion in cancer research.
  • The Commission’s Joint Research Centre was given responsibility in 2012 for coordinating the European cancer information system.


The number of estimated cancer-related deaths in the EU in 2012 was 1.263 million. Lung cancer was the most common, followed by colorectal, breast and stomach cancer. In the same year, just over 2.6 million new cases of cancer, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, were diagnosed.

For more information, see ‘Major and chronic diseases’on the European Commission's Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety website.


Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Implementation of the Communication from the Commission, from 24 June 2009, on Action Against Cancer: European Partnership (COM (2009) 291 final) and Second Implementation Report on the Council Recommendation of 2 December 2003 on cancer screening (2003/878/EC) (COM(2014) 584 final, 23.9.2014.

Commission Decision of 3 June 2014 establishing a Commission expert group on Cancer Control and repealing Decision 96/469/EC (2014/C 167/05) (OJ C 167, 4.6.2014, pp. 4-8).

last update 09.07.2015