Thank you for giving me this opportunity to be with you at the start of an initiative meant to contribute to the European Colorectal Cancer Awareness month.
Half a million people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer every year in Europe.
Half of them will die of the disease.
Getting that number down as fast as possible is a priority.
Yet cancer is a moving target.
It takes different forms, assumes different development scenarios, follows different time scales.
Worse, it arouses different fears among those who contract it, as well as their relatives and friends: fear of the unexpected, fear of the pain, fear of the reactions of others, fear of premature death.
That kind of uncertainty and fear makes it tempting to ignore symptoms when they arise… to postpone having to take seriously an emerging health problem.
Raising awareness of the nature of the illness is the best, perhaps the only feasible way by which to counter among our populations the colorectal threat, magnified by the temptation of ignoring it till too late.
Raising awareness on a European basis makes sense by way of pooling knowledge and practice, improving methods of designing health policies for prevention, not least in the delivery of screening which as we know, is the best tool for prevention.
I am here too as a survivor.
Eight and a half years ago, I began to notice I was becoming breathless when going upstairs or walking fast.
I postponed asking for medical help.
My excuse: I was afraid I was developing heart problems and luckily they would go away all by themselves.
So it is not just embarrassment about rectal blood that makes people keep back from taking corrective steps for a colon condition they discover in themselves.
If I had rectal blood loss, that never became apparent in any way.
When I finally went to a doctor, the colon cancer was so advanced that it only needed to expand a further millimetre to become generalised.
I am convinced that awareness of the threat posed by colorectal cancer, acceptance and widespread promotion of screening to detect cancer would constitute the best available response to contain problems like the one I faced.
If detection comes early enough, we are told, the treatment too becomes simpler, avoiding the need following surgery for chemotherapy.
My luck in this up to now, has been that the chemotherapy I was given came in pill form.
It did have some complications though, which I would not wish on my worst enemy.
Th European Commission is doing well in encouraging further cooperation between our member states in combating colorectal cancer.
Beyond the seventeen states which are participating in a coordinated approach to screening, the rest must also be encouraged to take part.
Cooperation and information sharing should also be encouraged by all.
For instance, the collection of data about the occurrence of the disease and a harmonised method by which to classify it, would be greatly useful
We do not need a centralised direction at European level, of anti-colorectal programmes and measures.
But widespread coordination of national efforts would surely reinforce the message for prevention, for screening.
Current initiatives by the Commission and other actors to strengthen the fight against colorectal cancer merit our full backing.
I thank you for your interest in this matter and your commitment to it.
I promise you my wholehearted support in your endeavours and am sure your deliberations today will be of great benefit to the half million who every year in Europe have to face the threat of colorectal disease.

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