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Cancer: New EU Guidelines on Colorectal Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

Yesterday, on the eve of World Cancer Day, in an effort to improve the screening and diagnosis of colorectal cancer, the European Commission publishes the first edition of the European Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Colorectal Cancer Screening and Diagnosis. Colorectal cancer is the second most common newly diagnosed cancer in the EU. It is the second most common cause of cancer death in the EU, accounting for one in seven new cancers and one in eight cancer deaths. Improving diagnosis and screening is key to reduce the mortality rates from colorectal cancer.

The European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli said: "These guidelines on screening help to give patients a chance of receiving timely treatment thanks to early diagnosis of colorectal cancer. For patients, screening and diagnosis can make the difference between life and death. This is why it is important that these guidelines, and the benchmark for best practice in colorectal cancer screening which they set, are indeed followed widely across the EU."

The use of the Guidelines

The guidelines on colorectal cancer screening form the third and final set of three cancer screening guidelines on breast and cervical cancer published by the Commission to assist Member States in their screening and early detection programmes.

Today's publication provides the first ever set of uniform guidelines on all the steps necessary for effective population based colorectal cancer screening in the EU. By implementing them, Member States have the potential to organise their health systems more effectively, including the diagnosis and management of cancers detected in screening. There is good evidence that population-based screening using the EU-recommended test reduces mortality from colorectal cancer by around 15% in people of appropriate age (50 to 74 years) invited to attend screening.

The guidelines, coordinated for the Commission by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (, were developed with the input of over 90 experts from 32 countries, and set a benchmark for best practice in colorectal cancer screening. Widespread application of the Guidelines should also make it easier for experts in the field to exchange information and experience across the EU. This is essential for innovation and continuous quality improvement of existing cancer screening programmes.

Raising Standards

The EU Guidelines on colorectal cancer screening aim to raise quality standards by providing guiding principles and evidence-based recommendations on quality assurance which should be followed when implementing colorectal screening programmes in the EU Member States. They cover the entire screening process - from invitation and organisation, through to diagnosis and management of lesions detected.

They focus on elements essential to screening, but also include principles which are equally important in diagnosis: training, multidisciplinary teamwork, monitoring and evaluation, cost-effectiveness, minimising adverse effects, and timeliness of further investigations.

Background to cancer screening in the EU

In December 2003, Health Ministers unanimously adopted the Council Recommendation on cancer screening, setting out principles of best practice in early detection of breast, cervical and colorectal cancer and calling for European guidelines on screening. The European Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Colorectal Cancer Screening and Diagnosis are the final guidelines in a set of three covering the three types of cancer of the Council Recommendation. The guidelines are produced as benchmarks to assist Member States in their national screening programmes on breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.

European quality assurance guidelines for breast and cervical cancer screening have been developed by experts in the field. They are published by the EU with the aim of promoting safe, equitable, reliable and cost-effective services which maximise benefits to those attending screening while minimising adverse effects. The new EU Guidelines for colorectal screening and diagnosis will provide similar standards for colorectal screening. Previous editions of the cancer screening guidelines have been among the top ten best-selling books of the EU Bookshop.

Other EU-funded initiatives in the field of cancer control

These include the European Code Against Cancer, which provides simple, evidence-based advice to Europeans on how to prevent cancer, particularly by adopting healthier lifestyles and taking part in organised screening programmes. More information can be found at:

The latest initiative of the European Commission in the field of cancer is the European Partnership for Action Against Cancer, which brings efforts of different stakeholders together into a joint response to prevent and control cancer. Within the Partnership, the screening pillar will also address the issue of overcoming barriers to making population-based screening programmes accessible to all citizens who may benefit. More information can be found at:

The European Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Colorectal Cancer Screening and Diagnosis is available at the EU Book Shop website or through the following link:

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