Lung cancer death rate is rising
Lung cancer death rates among European women are expected to overtake those of breast cancer for the first time this year.
The trend is largely driven by women in the UK and their long history of smoking, say researchers.
Predicted lung cancer incidence for women in Europe is set to rise by 9% between 2009 and 2015, reaching a level of 14.24 per 100,000 of population.
In contrast, death rates from breast cancer are due to fall by 10.2% to 14.22 per 100,000.
The bleakest women's lung cancer forecasts are for the UK and Poland, with 2015 death rates of 21 and 17 per 100,000 of population respectively.
At the other end of the scale, just eight women per 100,000 are predicted to die from lung cancer in Spain.
Despite lung cancer death rates statistically overtaking those of breast cancer, the total number of women dying from breast cancer is calculated to remain slightly higher.
Lung cancer is predicted to kill 87,500 European women this year and breast cancer 90,800.
Lead researcher Professor Carlo La Vecchia, from the University of Milan in Italy, said: "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."
The study looked at cancer rates in 28 EU member states as a whole and also in the six largest countries, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK.
As well as assessing overall cancer trends, it focused on individual cancers of the stomach, intestines, pancreas, lung, prostate, breast, and uterus/cervix, as well as leukaemia.
It predicted a total of 1,359,100 deaths from cancer in the countries in 2015, corresponding to an incident rate of 138.4 per 100,000 men and 83.9 per 100,000 women.
Overall cancer deaths were due to fall by 7.5% and 6% in men and women respectively since 2009.
In 1988, more than a quarter of men and a fifth of women died of cancer. Compared with that year, more than 325,000 cancer deaths are likely to be avoided in 2015.
Predicted death rates for lung, bowel and prostate cancer in men are expected to fall by 9%, 5% and 12% respectively since 2009.
Death rates from pancreatic cancer since 2009 are forecast to rise by 4% in men and 5% in women.
Prof La Vecchia added: "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."
Co-author Professor Fabio Levi, from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, said: "While the downward trends in overall cancer death rates is good news, smoking still remains the greatest cause of cancer deaths in the EU.
"For instance, smoking probably accounts for 15% to 25% of all pancreatic cancers, 85% to 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."
The findings appear in the journal Annals Of Oncology, whose associate editor for epidemiology Professor Paolo Boffetta said: "The decrease in overall cancer mortality rates among European men and women which started in the 1990s does not seem to slow down: this is the major favourable conclusion of the 2015 report.
"On the other hand, the continuing increase in lung cancer mortality among European women represents a challenge for cancer control, and the steady increase in pancreatic cancer deserves high priority for research."
Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: " This latest forecast is unfortunately not surprising, and demonstrates once again just how poorly the UK measures up to the rest of Europe in this arena. Lung cancer rates in UK women far exceed those of their EU neighbours - and should be a cause of national embarrassment.
"More than four in five cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking. It is essential that women - and men - quit smoking to lessen their chances of developing this condition or, better yet, never start at all.
"If we are to reduce the death toll of this devastating cancer, we must see it given the same level of investment in research as we have seen afforded to other cancers, such as breast cancer.
"It is also essential we see greater awareness of signs and symptoms, such as a persistent cough, to improve early diagnosis."