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Controversial physical agents directive postponed

Brussels, 29 October 2007 - The implementation of the Physical Agents Directive 2004/40/EC would suppose irreversible and drastic repercussions for cancer diagnosis and treatment Europe wide. Last Fridays publicly announced postponement represents a thankful turnaround, putting the brakes on a feared future for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in cancer.

Two-way dialogue prior to policy is paramount

The Physical Agents Directive was originally devised to limit occupational radiation exposure. What the Directive however failed to consider in its parameters were the different boundaries relating to such exposure. This oversight has greatly concerned professionals involved in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The Directive would consequently breach even those operating within 1 metre of MRI scanners as shown by a study published by the Health and Safety Executive in June 2007 on operator exposure to electromagnetic fields from MRI (Stuart Crozier, Brisbane University, Australia). These findings have thankfully and subsequently been considered by the European Commission.

At the recent ECCO 14 meeting, the dangers behind implementing the Directive were tackled head on by Dag Rue Olsen (Norwegian Radiation Hospital, Norway), Chairman, Physics Committee, the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ESTRO) during a specially organised news briefing.

Accentuating the problems with the Directive, Olsen emphasised that MRI is an essential tool in medical diagnostics and argued that there is no scientific evidence of long-term adverse health effects of exposure to static fluctuating magnetic fields that are commonly found during MR scanning. Concerning the recent announcement, he commented,

It is important to welcome this development as a first step in avoiding severe consequences for cancer patients. Importantly, there is a lesson to be learned from this particular turn of events. The Commission should widely consult and collaborate with all stakeholders in cancer treatment and care prior to setting future directives. It would be wise for the EC to involve organisations such as ECCO as partners in redefining the Directive based on sound science.

Protecting progress, professionals and patients

Deferring the Directive does not merit a whole hearted congratulatory note. ECCO responds with caution since the headline here supposes a first step postponement as opposed to ultimate reversal. If policy mindset surrounding the implementation endures, todays public announcement will sadly be buried with yesterdays news.

ECCO is highly committed to actively engaging with policymakers to help ensure that future legislation does not imply a similarly negative impact. By connecting major players in cancer research, treatment and care, ECCO is now better placed to engage with policymakers to promote the interests of cancer patients, the carers, and those without whose research there would be no advancement in cancer.

We must all accept and assume the responsibility of getting involved in 'cancer politics. Without such collective commitment, we can ourselves be equally accused of hindering progress, punishing our respective professions, and falling far short in following the ECCO philosophy that every cancer patient deserves the best.


Contact: Amanda Wren
ECCO-the European CanCer Organisation

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