On May 29th each year we celebrate World Digestive Health Day!
This event is held in support of an annual tradition initiated by the World Gastroenterology Organisation. The aim of the campaign is to help spread awareness of digestive health. Each year focuses on a particular digestive disease or digestive health-related aspect. This year’s theme was "colorectal cancer".
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As a result, we dedicated the entire month of May to a public awareness campaign emphasising the prevalence of digestive cancers and their significant impact on digestive health.
Digestive cancers across Europe: The heavy burden
Digestive cancers encompass the group of cancers that affect the digestive system. This includes oesophageal, gastric, liver, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer. Digestive cancers affect both men and women and are the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Europe.
Digestive cancers across Europe: Protecting through primary prevention
Strong evidence suggests that digestive cancers are at least partly preventable. Therefore, a shift of focus from treatment to prevention is essential. In terms of lifestyle interventions, diet is one of the most important factors in the development and prevention of cancer. To learn more about food’s role in disease prevention, as well as the negative impact of unhealthy diets on digestive health, read our Report on Nutrition and Chronic Digestive Disease.
Studies have demonstrated that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of cancer, suggesting that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive the increasing burden of cancer in coming decades.
Excessive saturated fat intake is associated with an increased risk of obesity and NAFLD and high cholesterol intake has been demonstrated to be associated with a higher risk of cirrhosis or liver cancer. In contrast, consumption of the unsaturated fat omega-3 has a protective association with liver cancer and the Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower the risk of liver and colorectal cancer.
Environmental factors related to diet, particularly processed foods, and medicine use, are primary determinants of microbiota composition. There is, for example, a correlation between certain microbiota compositions and colorectal cancer and studies show that microbiota also has a role in tumour development.
Among lifestyle factors impacting digestive healthy, alcohol consumption is a risk factor in over 60 types of diseases, with nearly 30% of deaths from gastrointestinal diseases directly attributed to alcohol. Alcohol consumption is also a known risk factor in many digestive cancers, including oesophageal, liver, pancreatic, colorectal and gastric cancer. For an in-depth look at the links between alcohol consumption and digestive cancers, read our Report on Alcohol and Digestive Cancers.
With 135,000 alcohol-related cancer deaths predicted by 2035 and even moderate drinking having a significant impact on increasing the risk of digestive cancers, alcohol control strategies are of vital need and importance. Such measures include introducing higher pricing, tackling the marketing of alcohol and raising the awareness of the risk of alcohol via labelling of alcoholic beverages.
Equally important are smoking prevention and increasing physical activity – particularly relevant in the prevention of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a major risk factor for liver cancer, but also other digestive diseases.
Digestive cancers across Europe: Screening saves lives
Since 2010, the number of countries that have implemented CRC screening programmes has increased from 15 to 23, targeting 72% of the eligible population in Europe. Whilst clear progress has been made in the implementation of CRC screening programmes across the EU, there are still vast disparities between Member States in the quality and coverage of their national programmes. Uptake of CRC screening varies substantially across Europe. Reported coverage of the eligible population has been reported from between 1.5 % to over 70%.
Cancer prevention and screening offer the best chance of a contribution to beat cancer and save lives. In 2022, the European Commission will make a proposal to update the 2003 Council Recommendation on cancer screening to ensure the latest available scientific evidence is reflected. We have, therefore, issued a position paper underlining the main issues that need to be addressed to ensure the successful implementation of screening for the major digestive cancers in Europe.
Digestive cancers across Europe: Time to act
Digestive cancers are responsible for 28% of cancer-related deaths in the EU. Estimated deaths from digestive cancers across the EU will be over 515,000 by 2035. It is therefore urgent that we turn the tide against digestive cancers. Despite the alarming figures, there are many challenges and knowledge gaps that need to be addressed before significant progress can be made. This is particularly relevant in the case of pancreatic cancer, the deadliest of all types of cancer.
To draw the attention of EU policymakers towards the threats posed by digestive cancers and the existing research gaps in this area, we have responded to current policy debates and developments.
In response to the interim report of the Mission Board for Cancer, we have issued a statement aimed at emphasising how certain proposed measures, if taken, could aid the prevention, diagnosis and management of digestive cancers.
Likewise, we have issued a statement on the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan underlining the necessary evidence-based interventions for improved prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of digestive cancers.
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Digestive Health Month 2021
The European Obesity Crisis
Likewise, to underline the great public health-related challenges the obesity epidemic brings in Europe, Helena Cortez-Pinto, UEG Vice President, discussed the alarming trend of obesity across Europe and its significant impact on a range of chronic digestive diseases in a newly published article. The article also features the remarks of Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Sarah Wiener, Member of the European Parliament on the topic.
The role of bariatric surgery in alleviating the impact of obesity on chronic digestive diseases
Moreover, UEG expert Daniel Hartmann addressed the role of bariatric surgery in alleviating the impact of obesity on chronic digestive diseases in a timely article which also features Markus Peck, Chair of the UEG Public Affairs Committee, who emphasizes the need for optimal prevention, treatment and care solutions to tackle obesity and improve quality of life of European citizens.
Uniting the continent: Obesity and chronic digestive diseases across Europe
Protecting our future: Obesity and paediatric digestive diseases
Childhood obesity poses a particularly worrying threat to Europe. Weight problems during childhood are related to a wide range of digestive diseases that continue to develop throughout an individual’s lifespan.
Recognising the causes of childhood obesity represents the first step in tackling the issue. Addressing ingrained family habits, such as portion sizes and sugared beverages that are consumed, can help to reduce the risk of childhood obesity. On a governmental level, the promotion of healthy foods and barriers to the aggressive marketing of fast-food and sugared beverages can potentially help stem the epidemic.
Taking action now: Diet and chronic digestive diseases
Healthy lifestyle choices act as the most effective preventative measure against obesity and subsequent digestive diseases. In particular, a healthy diet can significantly reduce the risk of obesity. UEG, and the digestive health experts within its community, recommend a healthy diet and lifestyle for the European population in order to reduce the risk and impact of chronic digestive diseases.
Reversing the trend: Obesity and digestive cancers
Obesity can increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent, particularly in men. Studies have demonstrated that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of cancer, suggesting that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive the increasing burden of cancer in coming decades. Nevertheless, it is now estimated that approximately half of all cancers are preventable, thus through appropriate action, their burden could be reduced.
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