Overall rates of death from breast cancer are falling across the EU

Researchers at the University of Milan have predicted that death rates from breast cancer will fall this year in all European Union (EU) countries, with the exception of Poland.

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According to annual predictions by Carlo La Vecchia and colleagues, death rates from breast cancer will fall by almost nine percent across the EU as a whole, compared with the rates seen in 2014. However, in Poland, the rate will increase by just over two percent.

However, the authors warn that these predictions are based on age-standardised death rates and that the actual numbers of death from breast cancer are still on the increase due to the growing elderly population.

"In 2014 there were 92,000 deaths from breast cancer in Europe and in 2019 we are predicting 92,800. This means the burden of the disease will continue to increase, with consequent implications for public health and costs to society,” says La Vecchia.

The fall in overall death rates from breast cancer is due to national screening programmes, earlier diagnosis and improved management and treatment, explains La Vecchia. The greatest improvement has been among women aged 50 to 69 years – the age group that is generally targeted by screening.

According to the predictions, the age-standardized rate for women aged 50 to 69 years is due to fall by 16% in 2019, compared with between 2010 and 2014. However, for women aged 70 to 79 years, the corresponding figure is only 6%.

La Vecchia says breast cancer screening in the EU has greatly improved between 2007 and 2016, meaning it may be too early to observe any benefit among those aged 70 to 79. This age group may also be the least likely to benefit from improved therapies, as other health problems may prevent their use in older women.

As reported in the leading cancer journal Annals of Oncology, the team assessed cancer death rates as a whole, across all 28 EU Member states. They also assessed the six largest countries − the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland − for individual cancers including breast, lung, pancreas, stomach, intestines, uterus, ovary, prostate, bladder and leukaemia.

Of the six largest countries, the UK is expected to see the greatest fall in deaths from breast cancer in 2019, at 13%.

This is followed by France, at 10%, Germany (9%), Italy (7%) and Spain (5%). For Poland however, the authors predict a 2% increase.

The study predicted that in 2019, the age-standardised rate of death from all cancers will fall by 6% among men and by 3.6% among women, compared with 2014. However, the actual number of deaths from all cancers will increase by about 4.8%, from 1.35 million in 2014 to 1.4 million in 2019.

Editor-in-chief of Annals of Oncology, Fabrice André, says that although it is clear that death rates are declining in most cancers, the growing and aging population means the number of people who will die from cancer is increasing.

“This represents a significant burden on society, and more needs to be done to prevent cancers occurring in the first place, particularly by reducing the numbers of people who smoke and are overweight," he concludes.

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.


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