The death rate from cancer has fallen over the past 25 years, but lung cancer will overtake breast cancer as the biggest killer among women within the next few years, said leading experts.

Across Europe mortality rates rise only for lung cancer in women and pancreatic cancer in men and women.

The mortality rate for lung cancer among women will rise by 8 per cent this year, while the number of breast-cancer deaths falls by 9 per cent, according to a new international study.

Researchers at the University of Milan and Lausanne Hospital in Switzerland project that the trends will continue, with lung cancer likely to become the biggest cause of cancer death among women by the end of the decade as more women who began smoking in the 1960s and 1970s succumb to the disease in old age.


Overall, cancer deaths have fallen by 26 per cent among men and by 20 per cent in women over the past 25 years, thanks to improved treatments and quicker diagnosis through screening programmes and imaging technology.

However, the delayed impact of widespread changes in the demographic of European smokers, which saw large numbers of women take up smoking in the 1960s and 1970s, means lung cancer in women is bucking the trend as these women reach their 60s and 70s.

Pancreatic cancer has few symptoms in its early stages and is often diagnosed too late for treatments to be effective. It has the lowest survival rates of the 22 most common cancers.

Professor Carlo La Vecchia, of the University of Milan, said experts did not have a satisfactory explanation for the increase.

While around a third of pancreatic cancers can be attributed to smoking, and obesity and diabetes are also risk factors, the true causes of most cases is unknown.

Lung cancer is predicted to kill 187,000 men and 83,000 women this year, while pancreatic cancer will kill 41,300 men and 41,000 women.

The new study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, predicts that 742,500 men and 581,100 women will die from cancer in the 28 EU states this year.

Although the absolute numbers of people dying are increasing, in line with growing and ageing populations, the number of cancer deaths per 100,000 people has fallen since 2009 by 7 per cent among men and 5 per cent among women.

- Independent