Death rates from lung cancer will exceed those for breast cancer for the first time among European women in 2015, according to the latest predictions published in the leading cancer journal Annals of Oncology1.
The study by researchers in Italy and Switzerland predicts that although the actual number of deaths from all cancers in the European Union will continue to rise due to growing populations and numbers of elderly people, the rate of cancer deaths will continue to decline overall, with some notable exceptions: lung cancer in women and pancreatic cancer in both sexes.2
In women, the predicted age standardised rate of deaths3 from lung cancer will increase by 9% from 2009 to 14.24 per 100,000 of the population, while the death rates from breast cancer are predicted to be 14.22 per 100,000, which represents a fall of 10.2% since 2009. However, the total number of deaths will remain slightly higher for breast cancer (90,800) than for lung (87,500).
Professor Carlo La Vecchia (MD), professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Milan (Italy), one of the study authors, said: “We still have to be cautious about the lung cancer rates in women since these are predictions. The data for real death rates in 2015 in the EU as a whole will be available in three to four years. Further caution is required due to the fact that the absolute numbers of deaths in 2015 remains higher for breast than for lung. However, the 2015 predictions confirm our projections on long-term trends made two years ago that lung cancer death rates would overtake breast cancer in women around 2015.”
The overall death rate for lung cancer among women is being driven by women in the UK and Poland, with predicted rates of 21 and 17 per 100,000 in the UK and Poland respectively. These rates are more than double those in Spain, which has a lung cancer death rate among women of just over eight per 100,000.
“UK and Polish women, particularly UK women, have long had much higher lung cancer rates than most other European countries (except Denmark, which is not considered separately in this study). This 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. It is worrying that female lung cancer rates are not decreasing in the UK, but this probably reflects the fact that there was an additional rise in smoking prevalence in the UK as well in the post-1968 generation – those born after 1950,” said Prof La Vecchia. “However, despite the relatively lower rates of women dying from lung cancer in other EU countries, the trends are less favourable in some countries, particularly in France and Spain.”
 “European cancer mortality predictions for the year 2015: does lung cancer have the highest death rate in EU women?“, by M. Malvezzi, P. Bertuccio, T. Rosso, M. Rota, F. Levi, C. La Vecchia and E. Negri. Annals of Oncology. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdv001
 The EU now has 28 member states, with Croatia joining in 2013. For this reason, and also because the Eurostat population projections have been updated, there needs to be caution about comparing 2015 estimates for death rates with predictions made in previous years after 2009 by the same authors; 2009 is the most recent year for which data on actual deaths is available.
 Age-standardised rates per 100,000 of the population reflect the annual probability of dying.