Lung cancer deaths to surpass breast cancer deaths for European women

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Lung cancer death rates are rising among European women, and the disease is likely to overtake breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death for women in Europe, according to research published Feb. 13 in Annals of Oncology.

The trends in lung cancer run counter to overall cancer mortality predictions for the year 2013. Cancer death rates for every other type of cancer, except pancreatic cancer in both sexes, are declining, according to Carlo La Vecchia, MD, of the Mario Negri Institute in Milan, Italy, and colleagues. Rates varied from country to country, but in the UK and Poland, lung cancer has already passed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women.

“Within the EU, there are large disparities in cancer mortality, showing that there is still large room for improvement,” wrote the authors.

The findings were based on recently published 2011 and 2012 cancer mortality statistics for the EU and its six most populous countries. La Vecchia and colleagues then estimated the number of deaths and mortality for the upcoming year.

In 2013, just over 1.3 million people are predicted to die from cancer within the 27 countries of the EU. Actual numbers are higher than World Health Organization mortality data for 2009, but the rate has declined, falling 6 percent among men and 4 percent among women.

As breast cancer rates fall, lung cancer death rates among women will continue to rise in all countries, reported La Vecchia and colleagues. In 2013, there will be an estimated 88,886 deaths from breast cancer and 82,640 deaths from lung cancer in women, with death rates of 14.6 per 100,000 and 14 per 100,000, respectively. Lung cancer deaths have risen 7 percent among European women since 2009. If the trends continue, by 2015 lung cancer will overtake breast cancer for first cause of cancer mortality, according to La Vecchia.

The authors speculated that the recent increase in lung cancer mortality in women could be linked to a rise in smoking prevalence in the 1970s. “[T]he favourable trends in younger women in the UK as well as in several other European countries suggest that a leveling off with rates around 15/100 000, and possibly some decrease in lung cancer mortality rates in EU women, could occur after 2020,” wrote the authors.

There has been an overall decline in the rates of death from colorectal cancers, according to the authors. In 2013, there will be an estimated 16.7 deaths per 100,000 in men and 9.5 per 100,000 in women, compared with colorectal cancer death rates of 17.6 for men and 10.5 for women from 2005-2009. There are large variations between countries, however, with Poland and Spain possessing rates of colorectal cancer death higher than the EU average.

Pancreatic cancer, the only cancer for which death rates are not predicted to decline in both sexes, is estimated to see an increase in rates from 7.9 per 100,000 in men and 5.4 per 100,000 in women, to 8 per 100,000 and 5.5 per 100,000, respectively.

"The best ways of preventing pancreatic cancer is to avoid tobacco, and to avoid being overweight and the consequent onset of diabetes that this can bring,” La Vecchia said in a press release. “This could prevent about a third of pancreatic cancers in the EU.”