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Research and innovation
News article2 March 2022Directorate-General for Research and Innovation4 min read

Improving citizens’ participation in cancer screening programmes and extending them to more types of cancer will help saving lives, EU Chief Scientific Advisors recommend

Today, in support of the Commission’s work under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to improve early detection through screening, the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (GCSA) released a Scientific Opinion on cancer screening in Europe. In the Opinion, the Advisors provide recommendations on how to improve the existing screening programmes on breast, colorectal and cervical cancer and advise to extend them to lung and prostate cancer. They also stress the importance of increasing people’s participation to such programmes by making them more accessible.

In the context of the new EU-supported Cancer Screening scheme put forward by the Cancer Plan, the Opinion will inform the upcoming Commission proposal to update the 2003 Council Recommendation on cancer screening to ensure that the latest available scientific evidence is reflected. The scientific advice also pinpoints the areas in which further research is required, and as such, can inform EU’s Cancer Mission. Cancer is usually diagnosed on patients who already display symptoms, or is discovered during medical tests performed for other conditions. Population-based screening offers the possibility to diagnose cancers at an early stage in otherwise healthy people, which in turn offers the best probability of a positive outcome through treatment.

According to the European Cancer Information System, the estimated incidence at EU-27 for prostate and lung cancer is set at 12.5% and 11.9% respectively, and they are therefore among the five most common cases of cancer in 2020. Lung cancer accounts for about 20 % of cancer deaths in EU. The poor prognosis for lung cancer, at 13 % survival rate at 5 years, is linked to the usually late diagnosis. Therefore extending the screening programmes to lung and prostate cancer will have a large impact.

Research and innovation are providing new evidence and screening technologies, expanding the types of cancer that can be successfully detected in their early stages and improving the detection possibilities for those that are already covered. The Advisors recommend setting up a system of “living guidelines” that can be rapidly modified and updated in the light on new scientific findings.

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said:

Saving lives by improving cancer prevention and early detection is one of the key aims of the EU Mission on Cancer. Research and innovation advance our understanding of all phases of cancer and pave the way to improve diagnosis, treatment and care interventions. This Scientific Opinion provides key insights and recommendations and it thus contributes significantly to this goal.

Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety said:

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan has a strong focus on research and innovation as the starting point towards a new approach to cancer prevention, treatment and care. Early detection is a cornerstone of our Plan and screening is a crucial part of this. The advice of the Chief Scientific Advisors will support our update of guidelines for cancer screening in the EU with the most up-to-date scientific knowledge, delivering the best possible outcomes for all Europeans. Screening saves lives and with the Cancer Plan, we will make sure that citizens across the EU can benefit from our future EU supported Cancer Screening Scheme.

Professor Eva Kondorosi, member of the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors said:

Population-based screenings are major tools to help detecting cancer early, which in turn gives the best chances of survival. Participation to existing screening programmes for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer should be improved, also considering individual risk factors and with the help of emerging technologies. Screening programmes should be extended to include lung and prostate cancer as well.

The Advisors stress the importance of making existing screening programmes more accessible by overcoming individual and societal barriers against participation. Taking part in cancer screening should be made easy for those who would most benefit from it, and should be incentivised and presented as such. At the same time, screening programmes must carefully balance benefits and risks (such as overdiagnosis), which requires clear and transparent communication of the scientific reasons behind any new approaches.

The Opinion is informed by the Evidence Review Report produced by SAPEA (Scientific Advice for Policy by European Academies), which is part of the Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism.


Since establishment in 2016, the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors provides the College of Commissioners with independent, high quality scientific advice that has informed policy making on more than a dozen topics. The Chief Scientific Advisors are seven eminent scientists appointed in their personal capacity, and act independently and in the public interest. Information on their work and its impact can be found in the ‘Report on the work of Group of Chief Scientific Advisors 2015-2019’.

For its work, the Group is supported by Evidence Reviews carried out by the SAPEA consortium, a Horizon 2020-grant bringing together outstanding expertise from natural sciences, engineering and technology, medical, health, agricultural and social sciences, and the humanities. It draws on over a hundred academies, young academies and learned societies in more than 40 countries across Europe.

The Group and SAPEA consortium are supported by a secretariat in the Directorate General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD Unit 03 - Science Policy, Advice & Ethics), that includes staff seconded from the Joint Research Centre (JRC). Collectively, the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors, SAPEA, and European Commission support staff are referred to as the Commission’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM).

More information

Scientific Opinion “Cancer screening in Europe”

Executive summary


Group of Chief Scientific Advisors

ECIS - European Cancer Information System


Publication date
2 March 2022
Directorate-General for Research and Innovation