Breast cancer rates are falling faster in the UK than in any other major EU country, research* published in the leading cancer journal Annals of Oncology says.
For the ninth consecutive year 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.
They found that death rates from breast cancer across all EU countries as a whole are expected to fall by nearly 9% in 2019 compared to 2014. 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 a predicted 2% increase.
Carlo La Vecchia (MD), professor at the School of Medicine, University of Milan in Italy said: "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.”
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 warn that while age standardised death rates pf breast cancer in EU countries 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.
La Vecchia said: "In 2014 there were 92,000 deaths from breast cancer in Europe and in 2019 we are predicting 92,800. This means the burden of the disease will continue to increase, with consequent implications for public health and costs to society.”
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).
Lung cancer remains the biggest killer in both sexes, and while in men the death rates are falling, from 36 per 100,000 in 2014 to 32 per 100,000 in 2019 (9% drop), in women they continue to rise, from 14.2 per 100,00 in 2014 to a predicted 14.8 per 100,000 in 2019 (4% increase).
Of the 10 cancers the researchers investigated, pancreatic cancer was the only other not showing a favourable trend. In men rates will be stable in 2019 (age standardised rate of 7.92 per 100,000; 45,600 deaths), while in women there will be an increase of 1.6% (age standardised rate of 5.57 per 100,000; 45,100 deaths).
"This probably reflects the different trends in smoking, which is the main risk factor for this cancer," said La Vecchia.
"In addition, overweight and diabetes - which are linked to pancreatic cancer - have increased, and progress in this cancer is hampered by the fact that research into preventing and treating it is underfunded."
*Malvezzi M, Carioli G, Bertuccio P, et al. European cancer mortality predictions for the year 2019 with focus on breast cancer, Annals of Oncology, 19 March 2019, DOI: 10.1093/annonc/mdz051