BRUSSELS - Europe is aiming to reduce its cancer deaths by 15 percent by 2020 and needs to double screenings to prevent mortality rates climbing as the population ages, the EU's health chief said on Wednesday.
Every year, 3.2 million Europeans are diagnosed with cancer, the second most common cause of death in Europe.
Breast cancer accounts for 30 percent of deaths from the disease in women, far more than cervical cancer with three percent. Colorectal cancers account for about 13 percent of cancer deaths in both men and women.
"We want to have a reduction in deaths by 15 percent by 2020," European Union Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said. "We also want to double the number of people screened because ... we have had a lot of progress since we started in 2003 but only 50 percent of our target has been reached."
Vassiliou, speaking at a news conference to promote sharing of information and research on cancer across the EU's 27 member countries, said her aim was also to reduce the vast inequalities across the bloc in terms of cancer deaths.
In 2005, for example, the cancer death rate in men in the worst performing countries -- EU figures show these to be Hungary, Estonia and Slovakia -- was double that in Cyprus.
Cancer cases are distributed fairly unevenly across the EU.
For example, with breast cancer, Belgium has the highest incidence while Denmark has the highest mortality rate. Romania has the lowest incidence and Spain the lowest mortality rate.
"We have to continue our efforts, at least in the three areas where we have proved that screening is effective: breast, colorectal and cervical cancer," Vassiliou said.
Reporting by Jeremy Smith