Skip to content .

Service navigation

Main Navigation


Further information

Link to opens in a new window




Opening Address of the Slovenian Minister of Health Zofija Mazej Kukovič (Conference "The Burden of Cancer - How Can it be Reduced")

Commissioner, Members of the European Parliament, Members of the Slovenian Parliament, Representatives of the World Health Organization, High Representatives of the European Union Member States, candidate countries and countries of the Western Balkans,

Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have great pleasure to be able to welcome you as a host to Brdo, the venue of major events of the Slovenian Presidency. I would especially like to extend a cordial welcome to those of you who are visiting Slovenia for the first time. I hope you will find some time to explore our beautiful country and its unique features as well as to enjoy the hospitality of our people.

Your attendance in such large numbers demonstrates a strong interest of the expert and political milieu in controlling cancer, the topic of this conference. The search for answers on how to reduce the burden of cancer plays a special role in my life. Before I was appointed Minister of Health, I was actively involved in Europa Donna, a non-governmental organisation, where I had came face-to-face with the distress suffered by women with breast cancer. Their stories helped me realise that cancer is not just an illness but something that leaves a deep mark on the lives of individuals, their families and friends. Nevertheless, I have also learned that it is possible to beat cancer and to continue to lead an active life.

Slovenia has selected cancer as a health priority during its EU Council Presidency. This choice was not made at random. The data obtained show that the incidence of cancer in women and men has been increasing despite achievements in cancer prevention and treatment. One in three EU citizens will suffer from cancer and one in four will die of cancer. With our increasing life expectancy and ageing population, we expect a rise in the number of cancer patients, in particular among the elderly. The burden of cancer will thus only become heavier over the next years and decades. Even nowadays comprehensive cancer control represents a major challenge for States that must provide health and social security. Considering the predicted growth in the number of cancer patients, the task will be even more demanding in future.

Much has already been done,, but more work lies ahead. These words sum up in a nutshell the situation at present in the field of cancer control at both national and EU levels. For many countries, this field is a health policy priority. In the most successful countries, important positive results have been recorded. It is not the first time that cancer has been a priority in the EU. The Community programme Europe against Cancer, together with other initiatives, significantly contributed to closer cooperation between Member States in achieving progress. Many experts have expressed their deep regret that no such cooperation still exists in this specific area. The good initiatives prompted by the support for this programme came to an end. The new Member States which joined the EU after 2004 were able to benefit from the positive results of cooperation under this programme only to a limited extent.

The time has come to look ahead and to examine how to strengthen those aspects that have proven to be useful and, also, to look for new forms of mutual cooperation and assistance. In this, we cannot overlook the significant gaps among and within individual Member States, as reflected in different morbidity and survival rates for patients with cancer. These gaps are partly the consequence of differences in the provision of a comprehensive approach to cancer control which includes prevention, early detection, treatment, rehabilitation, palliative care and research.

Our goal should be to prevent the preventable! At least one third of cancers can be prevented. Disease prevention has proven to be the most effective - and hence the strongest weapon in reducing the burden of cancer in each country. All existing knowledge and methods must be used to this end and implemented in all policies, with the involvement of all stakeholders.

For a number of years, the prevention of diseases, including cancer, is no longer under the domain of health policy but the society in general. Numerous risk factors were identified as being common to cancer and other most frequently-occurring chronic diseases. We can therefore expect effective and coordinated activities aimed at reducing these risk factors to improve the health of all people. Examples of this are: anti-smoking legislation, the implementation of measures in favour of more balanced nutrition and the promotion of physical activity as well as the prevention of harmful use of alcohol. Slovenia has accomplished a lot in all of these areas.

Early detection is important for the types of cancer which cannot be prevented. Substantiated scientific evidence exists for the introduction of organised mass screening for cervical, breast and colorectal cancer. In 2003, the Ministers supported the Council Recommendation on Cancer Screening. The introduction of well-organised programmes represents a challenge for every country. The European Commission is drafting the first report on the implementation of these recommendations. I believe the report will serve as a good basis for new agreements and progress in this field. When cancer is suspected, the patient expects the health system to respond in a coordinated fashion to restore health as soon as possible. All activities ranging from diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, psychological and social support provided to patients, their families and friends, to any necessary palliative care must be carried out in an optimal manner for the patient causing as little stress as possible. Services provided to the patient must be coordinated and multidisciplinary, otherwise we cannot expect patients to cooperate fully in their treatment. A suitable health system and fully cooperative patients are the sole guarantee for the maximum quality of life during the diagnostic and treatment phases as well as after the cancer has been treated.

All EU Member States have recently been put to the test, since rapid scientific and technological development in this field brought major changes in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. All these innovations need to be introduced by different countries into their respective health systems, while taking their needs and capacity into consideration. This poses just another in a series of challenges for every single country, regardless of its financial situation.

Exchanges of experience, peer learning and cooperation are crucial in these endeavours. The issues that I have touched upon will be discussed in the next two days, when we will be able to hear contributions from eminent experts.

The expert publication used as a professional basis for the Slovenian cancer initiative is a source of great satisfaction to me, since it will be used as a reference in our search for new innovative solutions in cancer control. I am also pleased to see that our priority has already stimulated general interest in this problem and has made it a topical issue. I hope that constructive political and professional action will confirm that we are well aware of the problem and that we sincerely wish to resolve.

I have great expectations of you too, distinguished participants, because I am convinced that the afternoon thematic workshops will provide an opportunity for stimulating exchanges of opinions, ideas and proposals, which will be the starting point for future progress and fruitful cooperation in this field. I sincerely hope that together we will foster tangible progress in our countries, which will help reduce the burden of cancer for patients, their families and friends as well as society as a whole.

At the end, allow me to wish you a pleasant stay in Slovenia and every success in your work.


Accessibility     . Print     .

Date: 08.02.2008