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Speech for the President of the Assembly for the Pink October Event: Breast Cancer Care in Pandemic Times – 27 September, Strasbourg

Dear colleagues, Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen,

I would first like to thank you all for joining us in showing solidarity and raising awareness on breast cancer. Due to sanitary measures, we can unfortunately not exceed the limit of 145 persons for this event, and parliamentarians are therefore given priority.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is marked annually in countries across the world to help raise awareness of the need to fight this disease. The first awareness raising event on breast cancer at the Parliamentary Assembly was marked in October 2013, at the initiative of our former colleague Stella Kyriakides, who I have the pleasure of welcoming tonight in her capacity as EU Commissioner on Health and Food Safety. I am also very grateful to our Council of Europe Secretary General for agreeing to wrap up the event tonight.

This year’s theme for our event is breast cancer care in pandemic times.

Breast cancer is the leading type of cancer in women. When the pandemic hit, people with breast cancer found themselves in a difficult and frightening situation, with many of them being at high risk of contracting the virus due to treatment which lowers immunity, and with operations being postponed because of overwhelmed hospitals.

In 2020 alone, there were 2.3 million diagnoses of breast cancer and 685 000 deaths globally. The mortality rate is higher for women in developing countries. The Global Breast Cancer Initiative of WHO aims to reduce breast cancer mortality by 2.5% per year, and has introduced three pillars to help achieve these objectives: health promotion for early detection; timely diagnosis; and comprehensive breast cancer management.

On this occasion I would like to draw your attention to our Resolution 2021 adopted in 2014, authored by Stella Kyriakides at the time, in which the Assembly recommended that member States keep the fight against breast cancer at the top of their health agendas and ensure that women have effective access to European guidelines-compliant screening and treatment programmes. These Recommendations are more important than ever in our pandemic times.

As with so many other aspects of our lives, the Covid-19 pandemic negatively affected screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care for breast-cancer. Many experienced delays and disruptions in care, adding an extra burden to an already challenging journey.

In order to mitigate the effects of the initial disruptions caused by the pandemic, we must ensure prompt return to screening and minimize delays in evaluation of symptomatic cases. Public education on signs and symptoms are pivotal for early detection, and is possible even when mammographic screening is impacted by pandemic-related public health measures.

I urge my fellow parliamentarians to ensure their member States follow our 2014 recommendations, as well as those of the WHO, paying special attention to overcoming the difficulties caused by the pandemic. We must continue to spread awareness of breast cancer, during Pink October and after, and we must take action - now.

Thank you for your attention.