Drop in smoking cuts cancer deaths

A decline in smoking in Europe and better screening mean fewer people are dying of cancer, but lung cancer deaths in women are rising in places like Scotland and Hungary where more women smoke, doctors said on Monday.

Early diagnosis and better treatments have pushed down deaths from cervical cancer and breast cancer, and declining smoking levels contributed to large falls in deaths from lung and other tobacco-related cancers in men, according to a study in the Annals of Oncology cancer journal.

The study of data from 1990-1994 and 2000-2004 showed overall European cancer death rates fell by 9% in men and 8% in women in the second period from the first.

Disparities between countries

But researchers said there were wide disparities in cancer death rates between different EU countries, and said some countries where alcohol and tobacco consumption has increased had seen a rise in deaths from lung, mouth, pharynx and oesophagus cancers.

"Further reduction of tobacco smoking remains the key priority for cancer control in Europe," Cristina Bosetti, head of the cancer unit at Italy's Mario Negri department of epidemiology, wrote in the study.

She said steps to cut alcohol consumption, improve nutrition, tackle obesity and increase screening, plus early diagnosis and medical advances for treatable cancers would also help reduce the European Union cancer burden.

Fewer deaths due to cancer

The researchers found there was an average of 168 deaths per 100,000 of the population per year in men between 2000 and 2004, down from 185.2 deaths per 100,000 between 1990 and 1994.

For women the average number of deaths fell from 104.8 to 96.9 per 100,000 per year over the same period. Bosetti said the downward trends had "continued over the most recent years" mainly because of falls in lung and other tobacco-related cancer deaths in men, a persistent decline in gastric cancer deaths and falls in those from colorectal cancer.

The researchers said cancer mortality rates in the worst performing European countries were almost twice those in the best performers.

For men, the death rates in 2000-2004 were highest in Hungary (255.2 deaths per 100,000 of the population per year), the Czech Republic and Poland and lowest in Sweden (125.8 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by Finland and Switzerland.

The highest death rates for women were in Denmark (141 per 100,000 people), Hungary and Scotland, and the lowest in Spain 78.9 per 100,000), Greece and Portugal - figures the scientists said reflected the different spread of cigarette smoking in men and women across Europe. - (Kate Kelland/Reuters Health, December 2009)

SOURCE: Annals of Oncology, advance online publication, November 30, 2009.

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