Time To Act: European Cancer Organisation Calls for Urgent Action as One Million Cancer Cases are Undiagnosed in Europe Due to Covid-19

10 May 2021

Nearly one million Cancer cases in Europe are being missed due to Covid-19, according to new data published today by the European Cancer Organisation (E.C.O).

The findings, a stark reminder of the challenges facing cancer care services in Europe during the pandemic, coincide with the launch of Time To Act, E.C.O’s campaign to urge the public, cancer patients, policymakers and healthcare professionals to ensure Covid-19 does not continue to undermine the fight against Cancer.

The study, conducted for E.C.O in partnership with IQVIA, reveals that the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that:

  • An estimated one million Cancer cases could be undiagnosed in Europe
  • An estimated 100 million Cancer screening tests were not performed in Europe during the pandemic, leading to later stage diagnoses and decreased overall survival
  • Up to 1 in 2 people with potential cancer symptoms were not urgently referred for diagnosis
  • 1 in every 5 cancer patients in Europe is currently still not receiving the surgical or chemotherapy treatment they need

The data from this study and the Time To Act campaign tools, available in over 30 languages, will be presented in a virtual event (Tuesday 11 May, 11:00-12:00 CEST), with contributions from European political leaders including EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, MEPs from the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) and the Director General of DG SANTE, Sandra Gallina.

Doctor Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation, said: “Today’s findings bring the impact of Covid-19 on Cancer into sharp focus. We desperately need urgent measures at the highest level of European policy to address the cancer backlog, restore confidence in cancer services and tackle workforce/supply shortages.

Cancer does not wait - immediate action is needed to restore cancer services and ‘build back better, and smarter’ in line with our 7-point Plan. This requires innovative solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide the best possible care to cancer patients across Europe,” said Professor Mark Lawler, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast, Co-Chair of E.C.O’s Special Network on the Impact of Covid-19 on Cancer and the Scientific Director of DATA-CAN, the UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer.

His Co-Chair Doctor Mirjam Crul, Head of the Aseptic Compounding Unit at the Amsterdam University Medical Center and Vice-President of the European Society of Oncology Pharmacy (ESOP), added: “We need a European effort to ensure Cancer doesn’t become the forgotten “C” during the pandemic, and to sustain a deeper long-term European health cooperation.”

As part of the Time To Act campaign, European citizens are urged to play their part by watching out for common cancer warning signs (e.g. bleeding when you go to the toilet, a lump in your breast, difficulty swallowing, unexpected weight loss) and immediately go to their doctor if they display suspicious symptoms.  Attending cancer screening appointments is also critical to increasing the chance of early diagnosis when cancer can be more effectively treated. For cancer patients, treatment must not be delayed, and we encourage cancer patients to insist that their cancer treatment schedule is maintained. The campaign further reaffirms E.C.O’s mission to support healthcare professionals in their commitment to deliver optimal care for the benefit of patients.

On May 10, as part of the campaign, E.C.O is presenting the data findings to BECA in a bid to steer the Committee to give Covid-19 and Cancer its highest priority. BECA recently published a summary of its Covid-19 and cancer consultation, concluding that the pandemic has led to delays in cancer detection and treatment, leading to significant backlogs further pressurising  already strained healthcare systems.

“The scale of the problem is frightening – the disastrous impact of Covid-19 has meant that there are at least one million Europeans out there with a cancer that has not yet been diagnosed, and a further 1 in 5 of European cancer patients whose treatment has been delayed,” said Professor Lawler. “We issue this urgent call to national governments across Europe. The Time to Act is Now. Without immediate action, the Covid-19 pandemic is poised to spark a Cancer epidemic across Europe.”

For more information on Time To Act, and to find out about the steps you can take to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t stop you from tackling Cancer, visit TimeToActCancer.com.