Lung cancer is likely to overtake breast cancer as the main cause of cancer death among European women by the middle of this decade, according to new research published in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology on February 13. In the UK and Poland it has already overtaken breast cancer as the main cause of cancer deaths in women.
The study by researchers in Italy and Switzerland predicts that just over 1.3 million people will die from cancer (737,747 men and 576,489 women) in the 27 countries of the European Union in 2013. Although the actual numbers have increased when compared with 2009 (the year for which there are World Health Organization mortality data for most EU countries), the rate (age-standardised per 100,000 population) of people who die from the disease has declined. Since 2009 there has been 6% fall among men and 4% fall among women.
However, despite the decline in cancer deaths overall, lung cancer death rates continue to rise among women in all countries, while breast cancer rates fall. In 2013 there will be an estimated 88,886 deaths (14.6 per 100,000 women) from breast cancer and 82,640 deaths (14 per 100,000 women) from lung cancer. Lung cancer deaths have risen by 7% among women since 2009.
One of the study’s authors, Professor Carlo La Vecchia (MD), head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Mario Negri Institute and professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Milan (Italy), said: “If these opposite trends in breast and lung cancer rates continue, then in 2015 lung cancer is going to become the first cause of cancer mortality in Europe. This is already true in the UK and Poland, the two countries with the highest rates: 21.2 and 17.5 per 100,000 women respectively.
“This predicted rise of female lung cancer in the UK may reflect the increased prevalence of young women starting smoking in the late 1960s and 1970s, possibly due to changing socio-cultural attitudes at that time. However, fewer young women nowadays in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are smoking and, therefore, deaths from lung cancer may start to level off after 2020 at around 15 per 100,000 women.”