“The burden of cancer is set to increase in the coming years. Making a few consistent lifestyles changes is enough to protect oneself against many forms of cancer. This Code sets out a wide range of measures that will help both governments and individuals in the fight against cancer,” said Emma Woodford, EPHA Interim Secretary General, EPHA representative on the cancer expert group.

Cancer puts a considerable burden on society and shares many risk factors with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For this reason, integrated policy approaches are needed to address common risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and nutrition. Likewise, the European Cancer Information System, which is currently under development, is a good model that could be replicated for other chronic diseases (3).

As the second most common cause of death (4) in the EU, facing the challenge of cancer in Europe requires effective practices, and coordinated policy actions across the Union. Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of cancer making the full implementation of the new EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) (5) and the introduction of standardised packaging of tobacco products an absolute must for cancer control. Raising taxes on tobacco (6) is also a proven policy tool for reducing smoking rates.

Alcohol policy is another area where more could be done to curb rising rates of cancer. For instance, measures like minimum unit pricing for alcohol (MUP) (7), to tackle problems caused by the abuse of cheap alcohol and alcohol-related harm, should be better incorporated into Member States’ policy responses.

Easy access to cheap, unhealthy foods (e.g. high in sugars and fats) and sedentary lifestyles have both contributed to today’s obesity epidemic in Europe. To reduce the number of cancers caused by poor eating habits, EU Member States could also apply a multi-nutrient tax to unhealthy foods and subsidise wholegrains, fruit and vegetables so that the price of certain ‘unhealthy’ food products increases while the consumption of nutrient-rich foods is promoted.

“There are several policy options that would make a difference to people’s health. Yet, they are still thin on the ground. As the scrapping of the world’s first fat tax in Demark (8) and the legal challenge of MUP in Scotland show, when it comes to our well-being, economic and business interests seem to still be driving decisions taken by our policy makers,” concluded Zoltán Massay-Kosubek, policy coordinator for Disease Prevention at EPHA, and substitute EPHA member to the cancer expert group.

  • Contact information

Javier Delgado Rivera, EPHA Communications Coordinator at javier@epha.org or +32(0) 2 230 3076.

  • Notes to the editors

(1) The 4th edition of the European Code Against Cancer has been launched by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the specialist cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), with the participation of the European Commission. The previous edition of the Code was launched in 2003.

(2) The Cancer expert group has been established by a Commission Decision dated 3 June 2014, which is composed of representatives of Member States and non-governmental stakeholders. Find out more here: Cancer is on the EU public health agenda - start of a new cancer expert group.

(3) A disease registry is a computer application ‘‘used to capture, manage, and provide information on specific conditions to support the organised care management of patients with chronic disease. Find out more - Cancer registries: a model to be replicated or used for other chronic diseases?

(4) In 2008, 2.5 million people were diagnosed with cancer in the European Union (EU27). Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the Union (29% of deaths for men or 3 out of 10 deaths, 23% for women or 1 out of 5 deaths) – a figure that is expected to rise due to the ageing European population. (European Commission website on Cancer)

(5) [Press release] On World No Tobacco Day, EPHA calls on EU countries to fully implement the new Tobacco Products Directive (TPD)

(6) [EPHA Recommendations] Tobacco Taxation

(7) [EPHA Open letter] Asking for support for the Scottish Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol (MUP)

(8) [EPHA Press Release] Denmark’s fat duty - latest victim of food politics


[Press release] EPHA encourages policy makers to be braver when tackling the cancer epidemic in Europe


Last modified on October 14 2014.