By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) - Almost 1.3 million people will die of cancer in the European Union this year, but death rates from the disease are on a steady decline, according to new research released on Wednesday.
A study of all types of cancer across the 27-country EU bloc found that more men than women are likely to die from the disease, and that "substantial reductions" in the number of deaths from breast cancer would lower death rates for women.
Despite this, breast cancer remains the leading cause of female cancer deaths in the bloc. Lung cancer, caused mainly by smoking or inhaling second-hand smoke, kills more men in the European Union than any other type of cancer.
Researchers from Italy and Switzerland, writing in the Annals of Oncology journal, predicted EU cancer death rates of 139 per 100,000 men and 85 per 100,000 women in 2012.
Compared with confirmed deaths in 2007 - the latest year for which there are World Health Organization death rate data for most EU countries - this would represent a fall of 10 percent in men and 7 percent in women, they said.
"Although actual numbers of deaths are slightly higher than those recorded for 2007, this is because a greater number of people are living into old age in the EU," said Fabio Levi of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine and Lausanne University in Switzerland.
"The age-adjusted cancer mortality rates show a clear decrease in rates for both men and women over the past five years."
The decline is due partly to falling smoking rates among men, and partly to advances in the prevention, detection and treatment of breast cancer in women, Levi said.
The cost of extending that trend is likely to be high. Cancer experts warned last September that an explosion of new technologies and treatments for cancer, coupled with a rise in the number of cases as populations age, mean cancer care is rapidly becoming unaffordable in many developed nations.
Details of the analysis, which used EU data from 1970 to 2007 to calculate rates of death each year and identify trends, showed that breast cancer remains the leading cause of female cancer deaths in the EU as a whole, and in particular in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Some 88,000 women will die from it in 2012, around 16 percent of all cancer deaths in EU women.
"The fact that there will be substantial falls in deaths from breast cancer, not only in middle age, but also in the young, indicates that important advances in treatment and management are playing a major role in the decline in death rates," said Carlo La Vecchia, a professor at Italy's Milan University, who worked with Levi on the study.
But in Britain and Poland, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women, with rates of 21.4 and 16.9 per 100,000 women respectively.
Lung cancer is expected to kill more than 183,000 men and more than 78,000 women in the EU in 2012.
Rates of pancreatic cancer are rising among both men and women in the EU: the study predicted a rise from 7.86 cases per 100,000 men in 2007 to 8.01 in 2012, and from 5.24 to 5.38 per 100,000 women.
La Vecchia said this was "somewhat surprising" for men, given the decline in smoking, since smoking and being overweight or obese are known to be risk factors for pancreatic cancer.
He added, however, that increasing rates of obesity may be one reason for the rise in the rate of pancreatic cancer, as well as better diagnosis and certification.
"We do not know the causes of 70 percent of pancreatic cancers, but this rise is certainly not reassuring," he said.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/wTDwpw Annals of Oncology, February 29, 2012.