What does the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) do?
Dr Wendy Yared - Director, Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL)
We are an alliance of cancer societies from all over Europe, so these are the national and regional cancer societies that provide advice, services and support to patients and their families and basically the general public when they need more information about cancer. We represent the wider Europe which means not just the EU28 but beyond so we have the same definition of Europe as the WHO does. While our work is primarily in Europe we also have some collaborations with partners and organisations outside Europe just to make sure that we are not duplicating services, that we have some common goals and our mission, our vision, is for a Europe without cancer.
Could you give us some specific examples of what your organisation does?
At the secretariat level we tend to do a lot of work at the advocacy level because we’re based in Brussels. We are their ears and eyes on the European Union. Some activities that we have include patient support, so we have a very strong patient support working group where we get all the advice from the cancer leagues on how can we provide better services to patients both at the national level but also at the European level.
We also have now a new taskforce on access to medicines which just started this year when the Netherlands held the EU presidency. It was decided among several leagues that we should look at the issue of access to medicine so that is a new taskforce. One very important area of work for us is we provide the secretariat for the MEPs against cancer. This is a group of members of the European parliament who are dedicated to cancer control issues and we provide the secretariat by helping them organise events, making sure that resolutions and directives are given enough attention, basically helping the members of the European Parliament advance our issues in cancer control.
One very, very important area of work for us right now is disseminating the European Code Against Cancer and we do this by working with the European Commission and working with WHO. The European Code Against Cancer is a set of twelve messages that is directed to the general public so they are phrased in an easy to understand way that anyone, no matter what level of education, can understand. These are twelve simple messages, they are evidence based. Not many people know that up to 50% of your cancer risk can be cut by following very, very simple advice, these include primary prevention and they also include secondary prevention, so simple advice such as watching your weight, not smoking is a very obvious one. I’m not going to name them all but secondary prevention also includes screening.
One of the very important areas of work for us right now is to help the European Commission and the WHO disseminate the European Code Against Cancer. This is a set of twelve messages that are directed to the general public in an easy to understand manner, very evidence based. The first European Code against Cancer was developed thirty years ago by the WHO and financed by the European Commission. The newest revision was in 2014. Now, having been developed thirty years ago, one would assume that enough of the European population are aware of these messages but unfortunately they’re not. We did a recent survey and we found that the knowledge around the European Code Against Cancer, but also basically around cancer prevention in general, can vary between 1% and 17%. Now for us that is quite alarming, especially if you follow these simple messages you can reduce your risk, around 50% of your cancer risk. The European Code Against Cancer also emphasises that they focus on actions that individual citizens can take to help prevent cancer and, most importantly, successful cancer prevention requires that these individual actions be supported by governmental policies and actions. So not only be supported at the national level but also at the European level and there we’re working very closely with the European Commission but also with members of the European Parliament and also our leagues on the ground to make sure that policies are in place to support individual actions. So our work right now is to make sure that as many European citizens as possible are aware of these twelve messages. These are twelve, again I emphasise that these are evidence-based messages, unfortunately a lot of the European public still believe that most cancer is just by chance and we want to let them know that there is so much that the individual citizen can do to cut their cancer risk by half and maybe even more.