Special Network: Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer

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Why a Special Network on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer?

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly had a dramatic impact on all areas of cancer control, including prevention and vaccination programmes, screening and early detection services, provision of all modalities of cancer treatment and care, including follow-up care for cancer survivors, and the conduct of cancer research and clinical trials. Such a challenge can only be addressed through collaboration of the entire cancer community. This led the Board of the European Cancer Organisation to launch a Special Network on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer, co-chaired by Board members Mirjam Crul and Mark Lawler. 

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Panel discussion at the European Cancer Summit 2020 session “Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer”.

The Special Network brings together a wide range of stakeholders, from our Member SocietiesPatient Advisory Committee and Community 365, in order to:

  • Precisely delineate the challenges that COVID-19 has posed on cancer care
  • Amplify activities undertaken by the European Cancer Organisation’s community to address these challenges
  • Produce recommendations on the most critical and pressing issues


Gathering Information on, and Drawing Attention to, the Challenge of the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer

As an early collaborative response to the urgency, the Special Network collected and gathered resources and information related to cancer and COVID-19 from our Member Societies and other organisations. These include, among others, clinical guidelines, patient information, surveys, data repositories, scientific articles, leadership statements and calls for action. You can access this Cancer and COVID-19 Resources Library here.

In July 2020, our President Matti Aapro and the Co-Chairs of the Special Network met with officials of the European Commission to discuss the information gathered by our Member Societies and Patient Advocacy Committee during the first wave and provide recommendations. The dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on all areas of cancer control and care was highlighted. Key identified policy needs included the importance of real-time data to drive decision-making and cancer service recovery, and the need to urgently address knowledge gaps on the parallel management of cancer and COVID-19.


Driving Discussions on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer: A 7-Point Plan to Address the Urgency and Build Back Better

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Bente Mikkelsen, Director of Non-Communicable Diseases, World Health Organization, speaking at the European Cancer Summit 2020 session “Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer”.

In addition, this year's European Cancer Summit on 18 & 19 November included a session on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer. The session, moderated by the Network Co-Chairs Mirjam Crul and Mark Lawler, was a lively discussion on the key aspects of the response of cancer systems to the pandemic, as well as of the lessons to be drawn from it, featuring interventions from:

  • Jens Spahn (Federal Health Minister, Germany)
  • Bente Mikkelsen (Director for Non-communicable Diseases, WHO)
  • Veronique Trillet-Lenoir MEP (Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) Rapporteur and Co-Chair of MEPs Against Cancer)
  • John Ryan (Director of Public Health, DG SANTE)
  • Kathy Oliver ( Vice Chair of the European Cancer Organisation Patient Advisory Committee)
  • Nicoletta Luppi (Senior Vice President and Managing Director, MSD Italia)

On the occasion of the European Cancer Summit, the Special Network published a landmark new report combining its key recommendations: The Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer in Europe: ​The 7-Point Plan to Address the Urgency and ​Build Back Better. Compiled in consultation with the European Cancer Organisation’s community, in particular with participants in the Special Network on the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer, the 7 priorities recommend to European and national decision-makers concrete actions to help ensure continued access of citizens to health systems for all cancer-related needs, combat medicines and health workforce shortages, and safeguard healthcare professionals safety at work. Find out more about the 7-Point Plan here.

A resolution supporting these recommendations was also passed by the Summit participants:

“Simply returning to pre COVID-19 cancer systems is not an option. We must urgently address the COVID-19 induced backlog in all aspects of cancer control and build back better cancer care delivery systems for European citizens and patients. ​

European Cancer’s New Normal must deliver more resilient cancer systems that:

  1. Urgently address the cancer backlog
  2. Restore the confidence of European citizens and patients in cancer health services
  3. Tackle medicines, product and equipment shortages
  4. Address cancer workforce gaps across the European continent
  5. Employ innovative technologies and solutions to strengthen cancer systems and provide optimal care to cancer patients
  6. Embed data collection and the rapid deployment of cancer intelligence to enhance policy delivery
  7. Secure deeper long-term European health cooperation

Cancer must not become the Forgotten “C” in the Fight against COVID-19”


Speaking at the session, Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation, said:

“The enormity of COVID-19’s impact is beyond doubt. Dreadful occasions like this remind us of the very human need for cooperation. This applies to Governments as well as individuals. We also need to think big, in a way that meets the current pandemic, and future challenges. Our 7-point plan is our contribution to this thinking. When this is over, the tired phrase, ‘health is not an EU legal competence’, should be sent to the dustbin of history.”


  • Find out more on the 2020 European Cancer Summit here.
  • Watch the session recordings and access valuable resources here.
  • Read the report of the Summit here.


To find out more about this Network, or support our work, please contact us here.

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