Predicted fall in EU breast cancer death rates bar Poland

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Death rates from breast cancer are predicted to fall in all European Union (EU) countries in 2019 with the exception of Poland, according to new research published in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology.

In their annual predictions for cancer deaths in the EU, Dr Carlo La Vecchia, Professor at the School of Medicine, University of Milan, Italy, and colleagues predict that in 2019 death rates from breast cancer will fall by almost 9% in the EU as a whole compared to 2014. In Poland however they will rise by just over 2%.

The researchers warned that although age standardised death rates from breast cancer have fallen from 14.6 per 100,000 of the population in 2014 to a predicted 13.4 per 100,000 in 2019, the actual numbers of deaths from the disease continue to rise due to the increasing numbers of elderly people.

Breast cancer remains the second highest cancer killer in women after lung cancer. Compared to the period between 2010-2014, age standardised death rates from breast cancer are predicted to fall by 16% in 2019 in women aged between 50-69 years, but by only 6% in women aged between 70-79 years.

The researchers looked at cancer death rates in the EU 28 Member States as a whole and also in the six largest countries – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – for all cancers, and, individually, for stomach, intestines, pancreas, lung, breast, uterus (including cervix), ovary, prostate, bladder and leukaemias for men and women.

Of the six largest countries, the UK has the greatest predicted decrease in breast cancer deaths for 2019 (13%), followed by France (10%), Germany (9%), Italy (7%), Spain (5%), while in Poland there is the predicted 2% increase.

The researchers predict there will be 1.4 million deaths from all cancers in the EU in 2019 (787,000 in men, 621,900 in women), an increase of about 4.8% from 1.35 million in 2014. But there will be decline in the age standardised rate from 139 per 100,000 men in 2014 to 131 per 100,000 in 2019 (a 6% fall) and from 86 per 100,000 women to 83 per 100,000 women (a 3.6% fall).

The researchers say that compared to a peak rate of cancer deaths in 1988, over five million cancer deaths have been avoided in the EU in the 31-year period up to 2019. Of these, 440,000 deaths from breast cancer were prevented. In 2019 alone, a total of 360,000 deaths from cancer are predicted to be avoided (237,000 in men and 122,000 in women).

“In 2014 there were 92,000 deaths from breast cancer in Europe and in 2019 we are predicting 92,800,” said Prof La Vecchia. “This means the burden of the disease will continue to increase, with consequent implications for public health and costs to society.

“The improvements in death rates from breast cancer are due to national screening programmes, early diagnosis and improvements in the management and treatment of the disease. The most favourable trends were in women aged 50-69, which is the age group generally targeted by organised screening.”

“The implementation of population-based organised breast cancer screening in the EU has greatly improved between 2007 and 2016 with many more countries implementing programmes and many more women being screened.

“Poland and other eastern European countries do not have favourable predicted patterns in breast cancer deaths, suggesting the need to improve breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in these countries.”

Editor-in-chief of Annals of Oncology, Professor Fabrice André, Professor in the Department of Medical Oncology, Institut Gustave Roussy, Villejuif, France, said: “It is clear that despite the good news that death rates are declining in most cancers, the bad news is that, due to growing and aging populations, the number of people who will die from cancer is increasing.

“This represents a significant burden on society, and more needs to be done to prevent cancers occurring in the first place, particularly by reducing the numbers of people who smoke and are overweight.”