Emerging Cancer Threat For European Women

Lung cancer to surpass breast cancer as main cause of cancer death in European women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths for both men and women in the United States. For women in Europe, breast cancer is their biggest death threat – but not for long.

According to a new study, lung cancer is about to overtake breast cancer as the main cause of cancer-related deaths in European women.

Researchers estimate we will start to see this trend in 2015. The reason for this change was the popularity of cigarette smoking among young women in the 1960s and 1970s.

Two countries - the UK and Poland - are already seeing lung cancer as the primary cancer killer of women.

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Professor Carlo La Vecchia, MD, head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Mario Negri Institute and professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Milan (Italy), was one of the leaders of this study.

The World Health Organization (WHO) began recording cancer mortality data in 2009 for the 27 countries that make up the European Union. The number of deaths have actually increased since 2009, but the rate – measured as number of individuals per 100,000 people – has declined. Cancer-related deaths are down 6 percent among men and 4 percent among women.

Breast cancer deaths have dropped 7 percent since 2009, which researchers credit to improvements in treatments, a decrease in women taking hormone replacement therapy, as well as screening.

Lung cancer is the outlier. More women in all EU countries are dying from lung cancer. According to WHO data, lung cancer deaths among women have risen 7 percent since 2009. Meanwhile, lung cancer deaths among men in Europe have fallen 6 percent since 2009.

“This predicted rise of female lung cancer in the UK may reflect the increased prevalence of young women starting smoking in the late 1960s and 1970s, possibly due to changing socio-cultural attitudes at that time,” Dr. La Vecchia said in a statement. “However, fewer young women nowadays in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are smoking and, therefore, deaths from lung cancer may start to level off after 2020 at around 15 per 100,000 women."

Study co-author Professor Fabio Levi, MD, Head of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois and University of Lausanne, in Switzerland, said, "The key message for EU national governments from this study is tobacco control, particularly among middle-aged men and women, i.e., the European generations most heavily exposed to smoking. If more people could be helped and encouraged to give up smoking, or not to take it up in the first place, hundreds of thousands of deaths from cancer could be avoided each year in Europe,” Dr. Levi said.

This study was published February 12 in the Annals of Oncology. The Swiss Cancer League and the Italian Association for Cancer Research supported this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 13, 2013
Last Updated:
February 14, 2013