Lung cancer has already become the main cause of cancer death among women in the UK and Poland, overtaking breast cancer. In fact, according to research carried out by investigators from King's College London, over the next thirty years lung cancer among females will rise thirty times faster than males.
Researchers from Italy and Switzerland estimate that close to 1.3 million people will die from cancer this year, across all the 27 countries in the European Union.
Despite the fact that the prevalence of the disease has gone up over recent years, the total mortality rate of cancer (according to data published by the World Health Organization) has actually decreased - most likely due to the decrease in mortalities among men.
In women, however, the lung cancer mortality rates are climbing higher and higher. Since 2009, the lung cancer death rate among women has increased 7 percent. An estimated 82,640 women will die from lung cancer this year compared to 88,886 from breast cancer - a very small gap.
Professor Carlo La Vecchia (MD), head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Mario Negri Institute, 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."
Smoking is thought to be the main cause of lung cancerThe rise in female lung cancer cases in the UK is likely due to the very high number of young women who began smoking in the 1970s. Over recent years, smoking among young females has started to drop, which could mean that total deaths from lung cancer may eventually plateau sometime after 2020.
Smoking among women rose in the 1970s. The main reason for the rise in lung cancer incidence
Lung cancer still remains the number one cancer killer among men, with an estimated 187,000 men expected to die from it this year.
The findings of the study represent the third consecutive year that cancer rates in the EU are analyzed and the number of deaths caused by individual cancers, such as stomach, lung, prostate, breast, and skin cancer are estimated.
The researchers also gathered data on intestinal cancers. They found that across Europe there has been an overall decline in the number of deaths associated with colorectal cancer, with a predicted 87,818 deaths in men and 75,059 in women this year.
Pancreatic cancer is expected to see an overall increase in the rate of mortality - across all genders - this year.
The rate of colorectal cancer differs greatly among different countries, with Poland and Spain having the highest rates in Europe.
Prof La Vecchia said:
"The main reasons for the decline are improved screening and diagnosis, and improved management and treatment. Smaller improvements in diagnosis and treatment partly or largely explain the less favourable trends in Poland and Spain.Tobacco and diet are other possible reasons, since they have evolved less favourably in these countries than in most other European countries."
"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. This could prevent about a third of pancreatic cancers in the EU. No other major risk factor is known, and there is nothing happening with regard to diagnosis and treatment that could materially influence national death rates."
Written by Joseph Nordqvist