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European Parliament backs bowel cancer screening and health promotion campaigns

December 2, 2010 3:00 PM

A campaign backed by local Lib Dem Euro MP Liz Lynne and many health experts calling for a major increase in colorectal or bowel cancer screening and health promotion drives has been adopted by the European Parliament.

Health campaigners are delighted after a cross party Parliamentary Declaration on tackling the killer disease won the support of 411 MEPs, well over half.

Bowel cancer kills 200,000 people every year across the EU and is the second most frequent cause of death from cancer, but treatment is more effective if diagnosed early. A switch to healthier lifestyles has been proven to reduce the incidence of the disease.

The Declaration calls for nationwide colorectal cancer screening following best practice and more efforts to encourage young adults to change their lifestyles to cut their risk of developing the disease.

Liz Lynne, MEP for the West Midlands and Vice President of MEPs Against Cancer, welcomed the adoption of the Declaration at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Liz Lynne said: "It is good news that this proposal has been adopted by the European Parliament and now must be considered by the Commission and Member governments.

"Colorectal cancer is one of the most dangerous forms of the disease but there is now massive evidence that earlier diagnosis not only saves lives but also cuts the long term cost of treatment. This declaration also again stresses the need to share best practice. Every health service in Europe is grappling with this challenge and we need to learn from experience.

"It was successful pilot projects carried out in Warwickshire which led to the UK's national bowel cancer screening programme for people from 60 to 69. This has now been rolled out in England, with the last major screening hubs opening this year.

"Many other EU member states have no organised bowel cancer screening. The scale of the NHS screening programme in England is impressive but it is also important that we keep up with best practice in both screening techniques and health promotion campaigns.

"There is evidence from the USA and a city wide programme in Brussels that widespread provision of colonoscopies to at-risk groups is more effective than only offering it to those whose stool samples are abnormal. We also need more research on the safest way to carry out colonic examinations.

"Cancer Research UK are calling for more use of flexible sigmoidoscopies to be offered by the NHS screening programme and have also highlighted the need for regional statistics on how the screening programme is being delivered in practice, to stop certain groups being left out."


Note to editors: Earlier this year Liz Lynne succeeded in winning Parliament's backing for a plan to evaluate universal cancer screening for women across the EU between the ages of 50 and 70.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in England followed a pilot scheme in Warwickshire and Scotland which showed that faecal occult blood testing (FOBT) every two years could reduce colorectal mortality by 15%. The programme was phased in over three years from 2006. Men and women aged between 60-69 are invited to participate every two years with FOBT kits in their own homes and return samples to labs for analysis. People over 70 can request a FOBT kit. Approximately 2% of tests are positive and further investigation, usually by colonoscopy, is offered. Most people with a positive test result will not have cancer and as colonoscopy is not without risks, other techniques are being looked at.

A study this year suggests that a one-off test called flexible sigmoidoscopy (or 'flexi-scope') can reduce bowel cancer incidence by a third and reduce mortality from the disease by up to half. Another method is CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) which is a non-invasive method of visualising the bowel. For further information see: http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/types/bowel/screeningandprevention/

Other research has contributed new information about physical activity, weight control, diet, and other lifestyle choices that can help individuals reduce their risk of the disease. MEPs are also anxious to ensure that lessons are applied from other EU countries such as Poland where their 'Beat Cancer' awareness campaign showed a significant impact on lifestyles and diet.

0068/2010 Written declaration on fighting colorectal cancer in the European Union

The European Parliament,

  • having regard to Rule 123 of its Rules of Procedure,

A. whereas in the EU there are over 400 000 new cases of colorectal cancer (CRC) and 200 000 deaths from it per annum, CRC being the second most frequent cause of death from cancer,

B. whereas CRC is associated with lifestyle factors (obesity, lack of exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking) and tackling these factors will decrease CRC development,

C. whereas screening in some EU countries has already lowered CRC mortality, while in others screening activities have not been initiated,

D. whereas early detection of CRC will not only lead to a reduction in the 40% mortality rate, but will also significantly reduce treatment costs,

E. whereas, according to the Commission, the fight against CRC should be a priority in public health, as death from CRC is preventable with the medical tools available in the EU,

1. Calls on the Commission and the Member States:

  • to support awareness campaigns in the EU on lifestyle factors which cause CRC, aimed particularly at teenagers and young adults,
  • to encourage implementation of CRC screening best practice in all EU countries and to publish progress reports every two years,
  • to make dissemination of CRC screening-related research and knowledge a priority in upcoming work programmes of Research Framework Programme 7 and the EU Health Programme,
  • to introduce nationwide CRC screening, in accordance with EU guidelines;

2. Instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the

signatories, to the Council, the Commission and the parliaments of the Member States.