Cancer rates in Europe are generally falling, but lung cancer is poised to overtake breast cancer as the disease’s biggest killer of women, a study published on Wednesday said.
In 2013, about 1.31 million people — some 737,000 men and 576,000 women — will die of cancer in the 27-nation European Union (EU), researchers said.
In absolute terms, the toll will be higher than in 2009, a year that is the benchmark for measuring cancer mortality in the EU.
But accounting for the impact of Europe’s greying population — advancing age is a factor in cancer — death rates in 2013 are likely to fall by six percent among men and by four percent among women compared with 2009.
But the study, which appears in the British journal Annals of Oncology, sounded a warning for women.
In 2013, the statistics point to a fall of seven percent in breast-cancer deaths since 2009, and a rise of seven percent for female deaths from lung cancer.
Co-author Carlo La Vecchia, a professor of epidemiology at Italy’s University of Milan, attributed the rise to a surge in smoking among women in the late 1960s and 70s, which is fuelling a wave of early deaths decades later.
Fewer women today are smoking in Europe, which means mortality rates for lung cancer may fall after 2020.
Lung cancer is still the main cause of cancer deaths among men, but rates have fallen by six percent since 2009.
“If these opposite trends in breast and lung cancer rates continue, then in 2015 lung cancer is going to be the first cause of cancer mortality in Europe,” said La Vecchia.
“This is already true in the UK and Poland.”