Today is World Cancer Research Day and the scientific community is renewing its commitment towards research to reduce the global burden of cancer, facilitate access to scientific advances worldwide and, above all, increase survival from the scourge of this disease.

This day stimulates the global and multidisciplinary research community to work together, strengthen the spirit of collaboration and offer new perspectives and technologies to conduct innovative cancer research and accelerate programmes.

The figures are bleak. According to the World Health Organisation, there were 19.3 million new cancer cases in 2020.  Cancer is anticipated to become the leading cause of death globally, with a projection of 30.2 million new cases per year by 2040. 

In Malta, there were 2,500 cancer cases in 2020. In the EU alone, cancer deaths will increase by 24 per cent if no drastic action is taken.

Loss of years of life and productivity due to cancer, together with the disability it causes, bring about the largest economic cost globally compared to other causes of death including infectious diseases. In fact, the economic impact is estimated at €100 million annually.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation, disrupting cancer care and treatment and prevention measures, delaying diagnosis and vaccination and affecting access to medicines. 

To address these lacunae, the European Cancer Organisation has launched a campaign throughout the EU called ‘Time To Act: Don’t let COVID-19 stop you from Tackling Cancer’. The Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation Malta is spearheading the local campaign, in collaboration with the European Cancer Organisation.

Urgent action must be taken to prevent unnecessary deaths and suffering due to cancer, to reduce its heavy economic burden and ease its social impact.

In Europe, there is now the political commitment to tackle cancer holistically through the Beating Cancer Plan. The aim is to tackle the entire disease pathway comprehensively and holistically, including research. 

In fact, over the coming years, the plan will focus on research and innovation, tap into the potential offered by digitalisation and new technologies and mobilise financial instruments to support member states.  The plan gives us hope but only if it moves from rhetoric to action.

It is in unity that we can prosper- Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca

The foundation was established specifically to augment local research in cancer.

As a tripartite entity – involving the Malta Trust Foundation, the Fondazione Terzo Pilastro and the University of Malta – it provides state-of-the-art equipment and grants for research to be carried out at the university.

The activity at the physiology and biomedical laboratories of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery is phenomenal. Sixty academics, doctors and students from Mater Dei Hospital, led by 10 principal investigators, work on cancer research, promising new hope for us all.

Research on the causes, prevention and early detection of cancer is key to controlling the disease. Cancer research is an investment in the health and well-being of people and no stone should be left unturned in this regard. 

There is so much yet to be researched to develop additional effective prevention and early detection strategies, make progress in diagnostic procedures and develop treatments that save lives at a lower cost. International collaborating networks need to be enhanced, sustainable funding models established, research training opportunities increased and infrastructure defined to allow fast implementation of the research findings into national health care systems.

World Cancer Research Day highlights the need for more and more research, focusing on bringing more resources to this area and inviting people to be part of this global movement. 

An integral part of World Cancer Research Day is to show support by signing the declaration calling for the active involvement of citizens, entities, institutions and leaders in the promotion of research, so as to reduce the number of people who develop cancer and improve survival rates and quality of life among patients.

To fully address the scourge of cancer, we need to work together, whether we are health professionals, cancer organisations, patient groups, survivors, families and their loved ones or policymakers. It is in unity that we can prosper.

I encourage those interested, in particular people working in the field and

cancer non-governmental organisations, to sign the declaration and place Malta on the list of signatories to such an important document.

The declaration is available at https://www.worldcancerresearchday.com/declaration/

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