EU death rates from cancer falling

 Age-adjusted death rates from cancer are falling in the EU, according to a new study based on World Health Organisation (WHO) data.

Death rates from breast cancer in women have fallen by 15% over the past five years, reflecting the greater effectiveness of treatment.

However, death rates from pancreatic cancer have risen by 2% in men and nearly 3% in women over the past five years.

Researchers writing in Annals of Oncology estimate that nearly 1.3 million people will die from cancer in the EU in 2012, with overall cancer death rates of 139 per 100,000 men and 85 per 100,000 women.

This represents a fall of 10% in the age-adjusted death rate among men and 7% among women relative to 2007 (though the actual number of cancer deaths has increased, due to the ageing population).

An important positive finding is a fall of 9% in the number of women dying from breast cancer relative to 2007, corresponding to a fall in the death rate of 14.9%.

Study co-leader Professor Carlo La Vecchia, head of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Milan, said: “The fact that there will be substantial falls in deaths from breast cancer, not only in middle age, but also in the young, indicates that important advancements in treatment and management are playing a major role in the decline in death rates, rather than mammographic screening, which is usually restricted to women aged 50–70 in most European countries.

“In general, many important risk factors for breast cancer, including menstrual and reproductive factors, physical activity and obesity, have not changed favourably, and breast cancer incidence has probably not gone down, yet deaths from the disease are declining.”

Death rates from lung cancer among women in the EU have risen, with an overall rate of 13.44 per 100,000 women predicted for 2012. In men, an overall death rate of 37.2 per 100,000 is predicted in 2012 – a fall of 10% since 2007. The study authors attribute this change to the decline in smoking among men.

Death rates from pancreatic cancer rose from 7.86 per 100,000 in 2007 to 8.01 in 2012 among men (a 1.9% increase), and from 5.24 to 5.38 among women (a 2.7% increase). La Vecchia commented that the increase is probably due to the growing prevalence of obesity and is “certainly not reassuring”.