Cancer Will Not Wait for the Covid-19 Pandemic to End. It is Time to Act.

11 May 2021

Flash report from the launch of the European Cancer Organisation’s Time To Act Campaign

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, together with leading Members of the European Parliament, officials of the European Commission and representatives of the cancer patient and healthcare professional community, came together today to launch the “Time to Act” campaign.

The campaign urges every country in Europe to achieve the promptest restoration of cancer services to avoid the Covid-19 pandemic from creating a new cancer epidemic in its wake.

New data intelligence was presented, placing the scale of the crisis in startling relief:

  • Clinicians across Europe saw 1.5 million fewer cancer patients in the first year of the pandemic
  • 100 million cancer screening tests were not performed in Europe as a result of the pandemic
  • 1 million cancer patients across Europe could be undiagnosed due to the backlog of screening tests, reduction and delays in referrals and restricted healthcare resources due to Covid-19
  • During the pandemic, 1 in 2 cancer patients in Europe did not receive the surgical or chemotherapy treatment they needed, and 1 in 5 are still not receiving it

The event also marked the launch of a new European Covid-19 & Cancer Data Intelligence hub. The hub provides further detail on the pandemic’s impact across the cancer continuum and across countries. More information here.

Opening the event, Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation (E.C.O.), conveyed the work conducted by E.C.O. members, patient organisations and others during 2020. This has included agreeing consensus recommendations to the EU and national governments to ensure the best response to Covid-19 pandemic’s impact for cancer care. The recommendations are summarised in a report  ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer in Europe: The 7-Point Plan to Address the Urgency and Build Back Better’.

Providing her personal support to the Time to Act campaign, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides spoke with passion about the necessity for urgent restoration of cancer services: “Cancer takes time away from us. It doesn’t care who, or where we are. And it will not wait for the Covid-19 pandemic to be over. Prevention and Early diagnosis offer the best chances of keeping cancer at bay. So please. Don’t wait. Don’t waste time. Time is your friend. Visit your doctor. Go for your checkup. Go to screening appointments. Your health services will do all they can to keep you safe.”



Other speakers at the launch event included Professor Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics, Queen's University Belfast and Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s Special Network on the impact of COVID-19 on Cancer. Professor Lawler emphasised the need to urgently restore the confidence of citizens in the safety of health services. He warned that practitioners had reported a sense in which a COVID-19 diagnosis was coming to be feared as worse than a cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Mirjam Crul, an oncology pharmacist from Amsterdam University Medical Center, and Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s Covid-19 Network, emphasised the interactive nature of the ‘Time to Act’ campaign, with a range of translated materials to help those wishing to share messages in any country. Elected officials in every country are also encouraged to add their voice to the campaign via the ‘Time to Act with Unity’ section of the campaign website. The first national launch event will take place on Saturday 22 May 1100-1200 CEST, with leading politicians and healthcare professionals from Poland taking part. Further national launches are planned for Italy, Romania and Spain during June 2021, with other countries to follow. The European Cancer Organisation is eager to make contact with any organisations and individuals wishing to be involved with such national events.

Kathy Oliver, Founding Co-Director of the International Brain Tumour Alliance, and Co-Chair of the European Cancer Organisation’s Patient Advisory Committee, highlighted the many ways in which the rights of cancer patients have been compromised during the Covid-19 pandemic. She emphasised the value of tools such as the European Code of Cancer Practice as a means to better safeguard these rights during the restoration of cancer services.

Dr Andreas Charalambous, President-Elect of the European Cancer Organisation and Co-Chair of its Workforce Network, spoke to the impacts that Covid-19 has had on the oncology workforce. The pandemic has spotlighted to a broader audience the pre-existing problems in areas such as workforce shortages as well as occupational conditions that too often place the wellbeing and safety of healthcare professionals at risk. A range of connected policy recommendations were presented.

Aron Anderson, WHO/Europe's Cancer Ambassador, spoke to the essential need for any citizen to promptly seek professional advice on symptoms and to attend health appointments such as screening tests without delay, regardless of the pandemic. “No human, no adult, no child should die of cancer because there is a pandemic in society. So please, act right now. As an ambassador for WHO is time to go to hospitals, to screenings - if you feel anything. It is so important.”

Various Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) announced their support for the Time to Act campaign:

  • Bartosz Arłukowicz MEP (EPP, Poland), Chair of the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer, urged a fresh spotlight on the impacts of Covid-19 on other disease conditions: “Behind Covid-19 numbers are also the victims of other illnesses. Let's learn from the pandemic and let's learn to better help our patients. They are counting on us, and we need to help them".
  • Alessandra Moretti MEP(S&D, Italy), emphasised the urgency of service restoration: “Many lives are at risk if we don’t act now. Our health systems are now safe. Postponing screening, therapies, or visits to the doctor is a risk no one should take.”
  • Sara Cerdas MEP(S&D, Portugal), looked ahead to the future, seeing opportunities to build back better from the crisis, and recommending attention to present EU initiatives such as the European Health Data Space in this regard: “We are now aware of the impact that Covid-19 has on Cancer. Now is the time to act. We must return to a new normality where we can deliver better healthcare services”
  • Frances Fitzgerald MEP(EPP, Ireland), spoke to the work she has been conducting with the Transforming Breast Cancer Initiative, in which a simple but critical truth has been promoted: “You may not die of covid-19, but if an aggressive cancer is left untreated you will not survive”.

Viewers actively exchanged thoughts and questions, with a range of issues arising, including:

  • hopes for fuller restoration of primary care services, including face-to-face appointments;
  • the potential for elements of the infrastructure and approach to Covid-19 vaccination to be replicated for other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as HPV-associated cancers.

Sandra Gallina, Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (DG Sante), provided closing remarks. She assured the audience that assisting the restoration of cancer services following the Covid-19 pandemic is an urgent priority of the European Commission. Instruments and initiatives such as Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the EU4Health Programme will be well deployed to ensure such support to countries is provided.

Watch the Recording from the Launch Event on 11 May 2021:


Watch the Campaign Video: