According to the latest predictions - published in the Annals of Oncology - lung cancer death rates will outnumber breast cancer death rates among European women in 2015 for the first time.
The authors of the new study say that although the number of deaths from all cancers in the European Union (EU) will continue to rise as a consequence of a growing and aging population, the rate of cancer deaths will decline overall.
The study reports that the predicted age-standardized death rate for lung cancer in 2015 will have increased by 9%, with lung cancer-related deaths estimated in 14.24 per 100,000 women. Death rates from breast cancer, meanwhile, are predicted to decline by 10.2% to an estimate of 14.22 deaths per 100,000.
Despite this, in 2015, the total number of deaths from breast cancer in Europe will remain slightly higher than those from lung cancer, at 90,800 and 87,500, respectively.
However, the authors urge caution as these figures are only predictions and the confirmed death rates will not be available for several years. Prof. Carlo La Vecchia, of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Milan in Italy, says:
"The data for real death rates in 2015 in the EU as a whole will be available in 3 to 4 years. Further caution is required due to the fact that the absolute numbers of deaths in 2015 remains higher for breast than for lung [cancers]. However, the 2015 predictions confirm our projections on long-term trends made 2 years ago that lung cancer death rates would overtake breast cancer in women around 2015."
The study claims that the overall death rate for lung cancer among women in Europe is driven by rates in the UK and Poland. In the UK, it is predicted that 21 women per 100,000 will die from lung cancer, with 17 lung cancer deaths estimated per 100,000 women in Poland.
Prof. La Vecchia says that the elevated lung cancer death rates among women in the UK "is due to the fact that British women started smoking during the Second World War, while in most other EU countries women started to smoke after 1968."
The UK and Poland have much higher lung cancer rates than most European countries. However, the authors say that despite the relatively lower rates of women dying from lung cancer in other EU countries, "the trends are less favorable in some countries, particularly in France and Spain."
Smoking remains greatest cause of cancer deaths
The study also predicts that in the 28 member states of the EU during 2015, there will be a total of 766,200 cancer-related deaths among men and 592,900 among women. These figures represent a fall of 7.5% for men and 6% for women since 2009, and a fall of 26% for men and 21% for women since 1988.
Cancer death rates peaked in Europe during 1988. The 2015 estimates represent a fall of 325,000 cancer deaths overall in the EU, compared with the 1988 death rates.
"While the downward trend in overall cancer death rates is good news," says co-author Dr. Fabio Levi, emeritus professor at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, "smoking still remains the greatest cause of cancer deaths in the EU. For instance, smoking probably accounts for 15-25% of all pancreatic cancers, 85-90% of all lung cancers, and is implicated in a number of other cancers too."
"The differences in death rates between European countries remains a concern, with higher rates in the member states that joined most recently, such as the central and eastern European countries," Dr. Levi concludes.