TALLINN - The fight against cancer must focus more in Europe on early detection, reducing inequality and improving access to screening, said European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, who is currently on a visit to Estonia.
Kyriakides and Estonian Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson urge people to make use of the opportunities for the early detection of cancer by taking part in screening programs.
"The European plan for fighting cancer is very thorough and helps patients and their next of kin throughout their journey from screening to rehabilitation. A part of the plan is a new cancer screening recommendation aimed at expanding screening programs in the European Union to reduce inequality regarding the coverage and availability of screening," Kyriakides said.
"I am very pleased to have witnessed the important work being done in Estonia in this field during my visit to the North Estonia Medical Center," she added.
Early detection is one of the priorities in the Estonian action plan for beating cancer. There are currently three ongoing screening programs -- for the early detection of breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer. A screening program for lung cancer is being piloted and a test project for the screening of prostate cancer is being prepared.
"We're also looking for options to increase the coverage of ongoing screening projects by enabling notification by SMS messages and testing at home. Starting from last year, the Health Insurance Fund also funds the screening of people without health insurance. For breast cancer screening, we have mobile mammography buses, which are particularly useful in rural areas," Peterson said.
"As part of the personalized medicine project, development is underway for a new personalized breast cancer prevention service, which we're hoping to launch next year. It is important that people should take the invitation to screening seriously and take part in it when they get the invite," he added.
Unfortunately, the participation rate in all screening programs in Estonia is less than 60 percent. At the same time, data shows that close to half of the breast cancer cases detected in screening are diagnosed in an early stage whereas the share of early stage cases diagnosed outside of screening is just 30 percent. In Estonia, breast cancer treatment results have significantly improved over the past 25 years and the country only falls behind Scandinavian states due to breast cancer cases being detected in a late stage of the illness.
It is estimated that up to 40 percent of cancer cases could be prevented by reducing the prevalence of lifestyle-related risk factors among the population, first and foremost the consumption of tobacco products and alcohol, obesity and insufficient physical activity, and by creating a health-supporting environment and increasing vaccination coverage.
Close to 9,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in Estonia and in 2021, over 3,500 people died of the illness. Last year, 57.9 percent of the women in the target group took part in breast cancer screening and 50.6 percent in cervical cancer screening while 47.5 percent of the target group participated in colorectal cancer screening.