Towards an anti-cancer culture: The role of National Cancer Hubs (Guest blog)

On average, close to 1.3 million people in Europe die of cancer every year and additional 2.7 million people are newly diagnosed with the disease. The pressure exerted by cancer on European health systems expenditure is estimated to exceed €199 billion (EU-27 plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) and it is predicted to increase even further in the coming years [1-Link].

To improve the fight against cancer in the European area, the European Commission has defined two major initiatives, (i) the Europe's Beating Cancer Plan (EBCP) [2-Link] and the (ii) Mission on Cancer [3-Link]. A strong and coordinated action between all Member States and a stakeholders in the coming years will dictate the success of the implementation of these ambitious initiatives. As shown by the COVID-19 pandemic, unilateral health and research initiatives may lead to a fragmented, less productive, responses. Therefore, Member States should learn from positive collaboration experiences and synergies to engage into international efforts in health, research and beyond to tackle cancer.

Dialogue and collaboration between relevant organisations and stakeholders are key to the development and implementation of meaningful initiatives. It is crucial to align expectations of researchers and healthcare professionals with needs of society, including patients and employers, and to consider these in governmental strategies for Health, Research and beyond. A true societal culture against cancer can only be achieved with the support and commitment of all sectors, not just healthcare and research.

Aware of the importance of national, regional and local structures to coordinate the implementation of European initiatives, the European Commission has recently opened a call for proposals with a clear goal to support the creation of national cancer mission hubs (NCMH) and a network to support to the implementation of Mission on Cancer in all member states and associated countries [4-Link]. National Cancer Mission Hubs should coordinate and support the implementation of cancer mission-related activities at national, regional and where relevant at local levels through the development of synergies with actions under Horizon Europe and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and through the promotion of policy dialogues on cancer with citizens, including patients, and national, regional and local stakeholders. An integrated, multi-stakeholders’ movement against cancer must be developed in the coming years to support the goal of improving the lives of more than 3 million people by 2030.

Hugo Ricardo Soares, PhD

Science Manager: Research and Innovation Networks, AICIB - Agência de Investigação Clínica e Inovação Biomédica/Agency...
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Anabela Isidro

Member of the Board, AICIB - Agência de Investigação Clínica e Inovação Biomédica/Agency for Clinical Research...
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Echoing the need for coordinated actions in cancer area, the Portuguese Agency for Clinical Research and Biomedical Innovation (AICIB) [5-Link] and the Portuguese Directorate General for Health (DGS) [6-Link] created, in early 2022, the National Cancer Hub (NCH-PT) [7-Link], devoted to coordinate, promote, and support the implementation of European cancer initiatives in Portugal (Fig.1).


The NCH-PT structure is inspired by the penta-helix model for community-based participation [8-Link] and is composed of two groups: the Policy Group, hosting representatives of 11 public organizations – named by an interministerial order in November 2021 [9-Link]– and the Stakeholders’ group, composed by more than 400 participants from diverse sectors of the society from Health and Research to Economy, Education and Social Area, including patient advocates and caregivers.

In less than 1-year, the NCH-PT has engaged in transdisciplinary discussions both in the Policy Group and in the Stakeholders Group and supported the launching of 4 collaborative stakeholders-driven projects in a coalition of the willing approach. These projects are tackling community-building, cancer prevention and quality of life of patients and their families. While it is still early to evaluate the impact of the NCH-PT, longstanding silos between researchers and healthcare professionals and other professionals are coming down. A long journey still lies ahead towards the full implementation of a sustainable anti-cancer culture in the Portuguese society. Nonetheless, NCH-PT will continue its work on improving cancer awareness, research and healthcare through networking and community building. We are now looking towards increase the participation of unconventional sectors in the NCH-PT, such as individual citizens, artists, educators and other professionals from Social Sciences and Humanities to enable the development of more inclusive projects with greater impact in the society at large.