Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, not only in the EU, but worldwide.

Background

Statistics from the European Cancer Information System (ECIS) estimated more than 400 000 new breast cancer cases diagnosed in 2018 only in EU-28, accounting for 29% of all new cancer diagnoses.

Moreover, data show discrepancies in incidence and mortality rates between Member States, and even within Member States, where mortality is higher than the European average despite a lower incidence. This may depend on many factors including quality and readily access to care.

ECIBC seeks to improve the approach to breast cancer screening and care and to overcome inequalities in accessing care across Europe.

Legal base

One of the roles of the EU is to support national policies by helping countries to tackle shared challenges, such as the burden of chronic diseases like cancer.

In 2003, the Council of the EU identified the adoption of European guidelines as key for ensuring the development of effective cancer screening programmes in the EU. Those Council Recommendations on cancer screening, in fact, advise national, population-based screening programmes for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer, along with other principles of best practice in their early detection. To support EU countries, the Commission has produced guidelines to assure quality screening of all three types of cancers and complementary recommendations on diagnosis.

In 2008, the European Parliament and Council further reinforced the request to support Member States in their efforts to fight cancer. As such, the Commission, namely the European Commission's Directorate General for Health and Food Safety together with the Joint Research Centre, have established the European Commission Initiative on Breast Cancer to update and review the previous European guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis reflecting the latest scientific developments.

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Main features

ECIBC is based on the latest scientific evidence available and follows an international recognised methodology for its activities, that also provides for full transparency and traceability.

ECIBC's activities can rely on the support of national representatives from 35 European countries.

ECIBC's working groups are multidisciplinary teams including health care professionals, researchers as well as patient advocates who participate in every phase of the discussion and development of both the guidelines and the quality assurance scheme.

ECIBC's objectives are achieved through the development of new European breast cancer guidelines on screening and diagnosis, and of an associated quality assurance scheme to facilitate the implementation of the guidelines by breast cancer services. ECIBC pays particular attention on the patients' needs during the entire care pathway in a comprehensive manner.

ECIBC covers the entire breast cancer care pathway, from screening of asymptomatic women to diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, management of recurrence and palliative care.

The European Commission supports the adoption and adaptation of ECIBC in interested countries on a voluntary basis.

ECIBC is the first initiative of this type undertaken by the Commission and may serve as a blue-print for other diseases in future, such as colorectal cancer or other pathologies. The lessons learned in the development of this pioneering project will influence the design of its subsequent activities.