European Union Steps Up its Efforts to Eliminate Liver Cancer

February 15, 2024

The European Commission presented Recommendations to support Members States in their efforts to prevent cancer through vaccination, it is a part of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. It is estimated that 40% of cancer cases in the EU could be prevented, some of them through vaccines. The non-legally-binding document focuses on increasing the uptake of vaccines to prevent viral infections that could lead to cancer, against Human papillomaviruses (HPV) and Hepatitis B virus (HBV).

The EU aims to support Member States to reach by 2030, targets set by WHO, namely (i) 95 % vaccination coverage (3rd dose) of childhood HBV vaccination;(ii) 95 % of pregnant women screened for hepatitis B; (iii) 95 % of newborns who received timely (within 24 hours of birth) HBV birth-dose vaccination.

Commenting on the recommendations, Zorana Maravic, CEO of DiCE highlighted the need for proper support to Members States in the implementation phase: ‘We are glad to see the European Commission’s recommendation, DiCE considers the implementation of mass HBV immunisation for all newborns and high-risk groups across Europe as a key countermeasure. We would urge the European Commission to make appropriate resources available for Members States to be able to implement these recommendations. Far too often we find ourselves with great guidelines and recommendations and little action on the ground where it matters‘.

To support Members States, the European Commission envisages:

  • Providing a model for communication campaigns, adaptable to national needs and taking into account national specificities
  • Resources for ECDC to develop a new dashboard of national vaccination rates for HPV and HBV by the end of 2024
  • Joint Action to be launched in 2024 to support Member States to increase HPV vaccination as well as to address communicable diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, funded with €20 million from the EU budget.

The European Commission’s proposal is expected to be smoothly accepted by the Council.

Liver cancer is the ninth most frequent cancer type in Europe, with over 87.000 new cases diagnosed in 2020. Furthermore, it is the seventh most common cancer-related cause of death, accounting for over 78.000 deaths per year in Europe (ECIS, 2020).

In Europe, HBV and HCV are highly prevalent, with an estimated 13,3 million people living with chronic hepatitis B (1,8% of adults) and an estimated 15 million people living with hepatitis C (2,0% of adults) – this equates to about 1 in every 50 people living with either disease (WHO, 2021).

Approximately 85-90% of liver cancer cases are hepatocellular carcinomas (HCC), and notably, HBV and HCV infections are recognised as the main risk factors for HCC.

In 2021, Digestive Cancers Europe (DiCE) published a White Paper titled Liver Cancer: No Patient Left Behind in collaboration with the European Liver Patients’ Association (ELPA). This paper was developed based on extensive research and analysis of recent data, with the aim to assist health policymakers. It is supported by a Liver Cancer in Europe Infographic, a Health Economic Factsheet, and an extensive campaign to raise awareness around liver cancer.

Aleksandra Kaczmarek

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