With the exception of lung cancer in women and pancreatic cancer, mortality from major cancers is expected to decline this year in the European Union (EU), according to new estimates derived by a group of researchers in Italy and Switzerland. Although the actual number of deaths will be slightly higher than in the comparison year of 2007, mainly due to the aging of the EU population, the rate (age-standardized per 100,000 population) of people succumbing to the disease continues to fall.

Estimating current cancer mortality figures is important for defining priorities for prevention and treatment, noted Professor Carlo La Vecchia, MD, who heads the epidemiology department at the Mario Negri Institute at the University of Milan in Milan, Italy, and colleagues in their report for Annals of Oncology (annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/02/24/annonc.mds024.full.pdf+html). To that end, they estimated number of deaths and age-standardized rates in 2012 from all cancers and for selected cancer sites for the whole EU and for its six most populated countries: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

La Vecchia’s group ultimately estimated that 1,283,101 people—717,398 men and 565,703 women—will die from cancer in the EU in 2012, compared with 706,619 recorded deaths for men and 554,515 recorded deaths for women in 2007, the most recent year for which World Health Organization EU data were available. The 2012 projections correspond with the estimated standardized overall cancer death rates of 138.7/100,000 men and 84.7/100,000 women. For 2007, the standardized total cancer mortality rates were 153.5/100,000 for men and 90.6/100,000 for women, representing a decline in cancer mortality from 2007 to 2012 of 10% among men and 7% among women. Increases are predicted only for deaths from female lung cancer (expected to rise by 7%) and deaths from pancreatic cancer, but mortality for the latter is expected to be almost stable, rising by only about 2% or 3%.

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For men, the investigators predicted decreases in stomach cancer (-20%), leukemias (-11%), lung and prostate cancers (-10%), and colorectal cancers (-7%). Women are expected to have reduced rates of stomach cancer (-23%), leukemias (-12%), uterine and colorectal cancers (-11%), and breast cancer (-9%).

The authors concluded that the fall in mortality from major cancers in major European countries and the EU essentially reflects the decline in tobacco smoking in men and the continuing progress in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment.