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21 April 2016

A coalition of scientists, patients and trade unions demand more effective measures to prevent bladder cancer

On 20 April the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) presented a white paper to Brussels on the subject of bladder cancer. This document is the result of a six-month-long collaborative working project between patients associations and expert representatives of various relevant medical disciplines. The white paper draws attention to the increase in cases of bladder cancer across Europe, a significant percentage of which are work-related.

In the European Union, almost 125,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year and more than 40,000 people die of the disease. It is the fifth most common cancer in Europe. However, recent years have seen no significant developments in available treatment and mortality rates have remained at the same level, despite declining for other cancers.

The white paper compiles a collection of scientific data concerning prevention, diagnosis and treatments, and it puts forward several policy recommendations to the European Union.

In terms of prevention, two clear priorities emerge: the fight against smoking and the need for better prevention measures in workplaces. Occupational exposure is responsible for between 21 and 27 per cent of bladder cancer cases among men, and 11 per cent among women.

The ECPC invited Laurent Vogel of the European Trade Union Institute to outline the political priorities for a better approach towards workplace cancer prevention. In his presentation, the researcher insisted upon the necessity of putting an end to the current paralysis in the EU legislative process. He also emphasised the urgent need to adopt limit values for workplace exposure to the principal substances which cause bladder cancer (diesel fumes and aromatic amines, amongst others). Many lives could be saved, Vogel insisted, by making health checks mandatory for all workers who have been exposed in the past to carcinogenic substances.

Vogel went on to criticize the European Commission for blocking the implementation of the framework agreement between trade unions and management in the hairdressing sector, by not adopting it as an EU directive. This sector is particularly concerned about bladder cancer risks due to the use of many dangerous cosmetic products. Vogel also denounced the Commission for withdrawing, under pressure from the tobacco industry, the proposed directive concerning the ban on smoking in workplaces.

MEPs Dacianu Sarbu and Sean Kelly declared that they would support both proposals of the white paper and would work hard to obtain a majority in the European Parliament for strengthening the measures to protect workers against the risks of cancer.

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