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Home » Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, Digestive Cancers

MEPs express concern over Europe’s chronic digestive disease burden

Submitted by on 12 Sep 2018 – 12:10

With nearly a third of all cancer related deaths reportedly caused by digestive cancers and the rising socioeconomic burden inflicted by functional gastroenterology disorders, Europe’s chronic digestive burden is on the rise. A group of dedicated parliamentarians in Brussels interested in reducing the impact of digestive diseases, recently launched a new European Parliament Interest Group on Digestive Health

IMG_6903About 28% of all cancer-related deaths are reportedly caused by digestive cancers. The five most common digestive cancers – colorectal, gastric, pancreatic, liver and oesophageal cancer are responsible for over 365,000 deaths per year in the EU, representing almost one in three cancer-related deaths. Of these, approximately 40% and 20% of deaths are represented by colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer respectively. If current population trends continue, the estimated number of deaths from these digestive cancers across the EU per year will be over 515,000 people by 2035.

Screening is in place for colorectal cancer throughout Europe and there is strong evidence that these programmes reduce incidence and mortality rates through early detection and prevention. However, there are vast differences in programme types and stark inequalities in participation rates, which range from less than 1% in Hungary to 65% in the Netherlands. Further research is required to find reliable, safe and cost-effective screening techniques and programmes to aid early detection of other digestive cancers.

Europe has been struggling to deal with its chronic digestive burden.

In addition to the threat posed from digestive cancers, experts at United European Gastroenterology (UEG), which represents over 22,000 digestive health specialists, are warning of the socioeconomic burden inflicted by functional GI disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation, which cause greater loss of productivity. Functional GI disorders are common conditions that can be extremely disabling for patients, yet sufferers often do not consult their physician about their symptoms. They are associated with educational and occupational absenteeism, imposing high costs to society, and are expensive to treat and manage. Treating IBS in Germany alone, for example, is estimated to cost over €3.2 billion per year.

Speaking to Government Gazette, Professor Markus Peck from UEG said, “The impact inflicted by digestive diseases continues to increase across Europe. With chronic digestive diseases, our society fails and the burden is only going to become greater. We’re seeing notable increases in the incidence of most gastrointestinal disorders, from digestive cancers to liver disease.”

A number of digestive health conditions are on the increase in children and obesity presents a major risk factor in most of these. The current outlook for young people’s health, for example, is extremely alarming, with childhood obesity rates expected to almost double by 2025. National and European strategies for prevention and early intervention are needed now more than ever, especially for in children.

What’s more, current predictions, trends and attitudes demonstrate that the challenge presented by obesity, heavy alcohol consumption and poor nutritional choices is increasing and urgent action is required to reduce this burden and improve health outcomes in generations to come. “Rising obesity levels, functional GI-disorders (FGIDs) and heavy alcohol consumption across Europe have major implications for future healthcare provision and it is essential that these largely preventable issues are tackled through health policy and action” adds Professor Peck.

Fortunately, half of all digestive cancers are reportedly preventable and their significant burden could be reduced by addressing lifestyle factors, such as rising levels of obesity and heavy alcohol consumption. On the other hand, Professor Peck notes that the greater burden comes from FGIDs, “where the difficulty often lies in diagnosing FGIDs, with a third of IBS sufferers reporting that they visit their medical professional more than five times to receive a diagnosis.” It is estimated that IBS patients record school or work absences of up to 13 days per year, compared with just five days for the general population.

Even though functional GI disorders are common, many patients are, unfortunately, negatively stigmatised. To improve the lives of people with FGIDs, “there needs to be greater recognition of the disorders and advancement of scientific understanding to optimise patient outcomes.”

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To manage Europe’s chronic digestive burden, a group of dedicated parliamentarians in Brussels interested in reducing the impact inflicted by digestive diseases, launched a new European Parliament Interest Group on Digestive Health in May this year. Speaking to Government Gazette, MEP Pavel Poc, Chair of the MEP Group said “The Interest Group brings together MEPs that are enthusiastic about promoting digestive health at the EU level and beyond and promotes related EU policy initiatives. The group’s overarching mission is to ensure that improving digestive health remains an integral part of the EU health agenda.”

As obesity is quickly overtaking tobacco as a health risk and is the leading preventable cause of cancer and substantially threatens the sustainability of public healthcare systems, the Group aims “to cultivate and promote awareness regarding digestive diseases and strengthen the competence of people to manage their digestive health.” It will serve as a platform for exchange between the scientific community and policy makers for this purpose. “Topics to be addressed include the implementation of quality controlled screening programmes for digestive cancers, promotion of policy initiatives related to counter chronic digestive diseases, the mitigation of alcohol-related harm, creation of healthier food environments, increasing EU finding into digestive health.”

By facilitating conversation and discussion between leading digestive health experts and the 17 MEPs who have joined the Interest Group to date, MEP Poc says the Group “will create greater awareness of the treatment, prevention and socio-economic burden of digestive diseases throughout Europe and aim to implement change at both a national and the EU level.”

Excessive European drinking is an extremely serious public health issue that inflicts huge socio-economic damage on the EU. A regulatory approach on alcohol labeling is needed to ensure consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. “This, together with a tightening of regulations on the marketing of alcohol,” is one of the Group’s central aims, says MEP Nessa Childers, Co-chair – European Parliament Interest Group on Digestive Health.

Talking about the Group’s efforts to reduce the burden of digestive cancers and the need to increase awareness about the correlation between gastrointestinal disorders and digestive cancers, MEP Poc noted that “sharing and promoting best practice in the screening, monitoring and surveillance of digestive cancers, promoting standardization of colorectal cancer screening programmes and promoting colorectal cancer screening uptake are all actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of digestive cancers on patients and high-risk groups.”

He noted that an upcoming event of the MEP Digestive Health Group foreseen this autumn will look into the burden and policy aspects of pancreatic cancer. “Currently, there is no screening test or early detection method for pancreatic cancer and, even more alarmingly, 64% of Europeans state that they know very little about the disease, making the chances of early diagnosis extremely slim.”

Further activities of the Group will focus around nutrition, particularly danger of processed food on health; and the indirect toxic effects of pesticides on health.

Members of the MEP Digestive Health Group
Chair: MEP Pavel Poc (S&D, CZ)

Co-Chairs: MEP Nessa Childers (S&D, IE), MEP Michèle Rivasi (Greens, FR), MEP Jean Marinescu (EPP, RO)

Members: Miroslav Mikolasik (EPP, SK), Annie Schreijer-Pierik (EPP, NL), Sirpa Pietikäinen, (EPP, FI), Biljana Borzan (S&D, HR), Ignacio Faria, (EPP, PT), Margrete Auken (Greens, FR), Daciana Sarbu, (S&D, RO), Andrey Kovatchev (EPP, BG), Jana Zitnanska (ECR, SK), Soledad Cabezón Ruiz (S&D, ES), Hilde Vautmans (ALDE, BE), Kateřina Konečná (GUE/NGL, CZ), and Cristian Silviu Bușoi (EPP, RO)