A dubious distinction for European women

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Deaths from lung cancer are set to surpass deaths from breast cancer in European women, and will become the leading cause of cancer deaths among women there, according to a recent study published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

In some countries, such as the U.K. and Poland, lung cancer has already become the main cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Lung cancer killed more women than breast cancer in the U.S. for decades.

Experts are saying that the rise reflects the surge in the number of women who started smoking in the 1960s and 1970s. And since there is a ten-to-twenty (or more) lag period between exposure to smoking and lung cancer, the death rate will continue on its upward trend for the next few years.

Researchers analyzed cancer rates for the E.U. as a whole and also in six individual countries France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK for all cancers, and, individually, for stomach, intestine, pancreas, lung, prostate, breast, uterus (including cervix) and leukemias.

Although their figures show an increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer because they are living longer overall, the incidence rate is down, and the mortality totals are lower, the latter due to better diagnosis and treatment. However, despite the decline in total cancer deaths, lung cancer death rates continue to rise among women in all EU countries.

In 2013, some 82,640 European women will die from lung cancer, while 88,886 will die from breast cancer. And by 2015 the balance will have shifted and lung cancer will take the lead, according to Professor Carlo La Vecchia head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Mario Negri Institute and professor of medicine at Milan University in Italy.

It s a little-known fact that lung cancer is by far a bigger killer of women here than breast cancer yet we see no marches for the cure about that disease, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. The smoking rate in Europe approximately 33 percent is higher than in the States, although it is slowly declining. The unfortunate fact about the rising lung cancer death rate is that we cannot do anything about it, but plan for the future by encouraging smokers to quit and giving them effective tools to help them quit.