The new EU Cancer Plan published this February highlights early detection of cancer as one of the key areas of development for the next few years. EU advocates for more efficient implementation of currently available cancer screening programmes, which include programmes for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. In 2021, the commission will form a scientific advisory group to look into the possibility of establishing new cancer screening programmes, including one for prostate cancer.
A need for better screening methods
Even though prostate cancer is the most prevalent cancer amongst men in many countries around the world, there are currently no national screening programmes. Several studies have proven preventive prostate cancer screening to lower prostate cancer mortality, but population level screenings with the PSA-test are still not recommended. The health care costs and other negative effects caused by the PSA-test’s high false-positive rate have thus far outweighed the benefits of large-scale screenings.
Prostate cancer is a difficult cancer to spot, because it often does not cause any symptoms until it is already advanced. Moreover, the usual symptoms of prostate cancer can also be caused by a variety of other conditions besides prostate cancer.
Another complicated aspect of prostate cancer are its different types. A number of less aggressive, low-risk varieties of prostate cancer require no treatment at all, while other forms are aggressive and metastatic, and if they go unnoticed for too long they can be fatal.
The European Association of Urology characterises the current prostate cancer screening practices as ‘opportunistic’ – every year a number of aggressive prostate cancer cases are caught early, while at the same time a large number of patients with low-risk prostate cancer undergo unnecessary operations or treatment.
The emotional, social and financial burden caused by prostate cancer grows together with the incidence of prostate cancer every year. This is the time for concrete action and new innovations – and luckily the EU Commission seems to be open to new possibilities in cancer screening.
The EU Cancer Plan 2021
The 2021 EU Cancer Plan includes a Flagship initiative called ‘EU Cancer Screening Scheme’, to be implemented during the next four years. When it comes to prostate cancer screening, the 2021 EU Cancer Plan promises more than the previous years’ plans. In the new cancer plan the European council promises to update its Council Recommendation on cancer screening and to look into the possibility of implementing new screening programmes. It is important to ensure that the new screening guidelines reflect the latest scientific research.
There is already significant evidence that even the current screening methods have had a positive impact on prostate cancer mortality. The 2021 Cancer Plan and the establishment of a scientific advisory group create an opportunity to consider new screening methods in addition to PSA.
The scientific community plays an important role in the improvement of early detection. In order to establish new prostate cancer screening tests, the scientific community and especially urologists and prostate cancer specialists, as well as political entities like the European Commission, must show their support for new methods and technologies. Patient advocacy groups and non-profit organisations are also an important driving force for innovation and development of prostate cancer screening, diagnostics and individualised treatment.
As a company, we at Aqsens Health are excited about the direction the European Commission is taking in improving cancer screening. Innovation and new screening solutions are at the heart of our research work, and we hope that we can be a part of the development of new, large-scale screening practices.