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New European cancer figures for 2004 - cancer experts say major efforts needed against the big four killers


There were nearly 2.9 million new cases of cancer and more than 1.7 million cancer deaths in Europe last year, according to new estimates in a report published today (Thursday 17 February) in Annals of Oncology [1]. The authors warn that the ageing of the European population means that these figures will continue to rise, even if incidence and mortality rates for specific age groups remain constant.

They also say that it is vital to make a major assault on the four biggest killers – lung, colorectal, breast and stomach cancer – if there is to be quick, significant progress against the burden of the disease.

The report has been produced by Professor Peter Boyle, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) from Lyon, France and Dr Jacques Ferlay, staff scientist at the Descriptive Epidemiology Unit, IARC.

Close to 3 million new cases a year

They estimated that there were nearly 2.9 million new cases diagnosed in 2004 and over 1.7 million deaths from cancer. Of these, 54% of the new cases (1,534,700) and 56% of deaths (962,600) were among men. The 25 EU countries accounted for 2 million of these new cases and 1.2 million of these deaths[2] .

"It is clear that despite a fall in stomach cancer rates and some progress in screening and treatment, cancer remains an important public health problem throughout Europe", said Professor Boyle.

Lung and colorectal cancers leading cancers overall

Overall, lung cancer was the commonest form of cancer diagnosed (13.2%) and of cancer death (20%). Although colorectal cancer was almost equally common (13%), it represented a smaller proportion of deaths (11.9%).

Breast cancer on the rise, stomach cancer decreasing

Among women, breast cancer was by far the most common, representing 27.4% of all female cases and it was also the biggest killer with nearly 130,000 deaths – 17.4% of the total. One cancer in eight in Europe was breast cancer and this form of cancer represented 7.6% of all cancer deaths. Stomach cancer rates are falling in all countries, but this still accounts for 5.9% of all new cases and 8.1% of all cancer deaths.

The major cancers in men are lung and prostate

In men, lung cancer was the commonest form of cancer, followed by prostate cancer (238,000 new cases, representing 15.5% of cancers diagnosed in men). It is worth noting that prostate cancer was the commonest form of cancer diagnosed in men in 2004 in the European Union.

Said Professor Boyle: "Lung, colorectal and breast cancer account for two-fifths of the entire European cancer total and lung, colorectal, stomach and breast cancers together are responsible for half of all the cancer deaths.

"Our estimates give a good indication of the burden of cancer incidence and death throughout Europe and will help to clarify the priorities for cancer control action."

Improvements in breast cancer screening, but slow progress for colorectal cancer prevention

"While prospects are encouraging as regards screening for breast cancer in terms of mortality reduction, progress is too slow concerning colorectal cancer prevention", said Peter Boyle. "Progress is only possible through a joint European effort", he added.

Cigarette toll heaviest on men, but increasingly also in women

The overwhelming majority of lung cancer is caused by tobacco smoking and tobacco control was clearly a number one priority, aimed not only at men, but also increasingly at women. "There has been substantial progress among men in Europe, but the situation among women – and especially young women – is cause for concern. There is also a great difference between Northern Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. Central and Eastern Europe should be a special target for tobacco control."

Mortality trend on the decrease overall

"During the Europe Against Cancer Programme, downward trends in mortality for several common cancer killers were established and that trend looks set to continue", Boyle predicted, "although there were worrying exceptions, including lung cancer in women and most common forms of cancer in Spain and Portugal."

Call for concerted action

He concluded: "To make great progress quickly it is evident that we need to make a concerted attack on the big killers – lung, colorectal, breast and stomach cancer." "IARC is particularly well-positioned to take the lead in this battle, where international coordination of efforts will be key to achieving any reduction of disease burden and of mortality through concerted prevention efforts", Peter Boyle concluded.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization. Its mission is to coordinate and conduct research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and to develop scientific strategies for cancer control. The mandate of the World cancer research Agency is to coordinate international research to take advantage of synergies and and disseminate scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships.

[1] Annals of Oncology is the monthly journal of the European Society for Medical Oncology. Please acknowledge the journal as the source in any reports.

Cancer incidence and mortality in Europe, 2004. Annals of Oncology. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdi098. A pdf version of the research paper with detailed results is available from Margaret Willson (details below).

[2] The European Union comprises Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands and United Kingdom. Europe comprises the European Union countries plus Albania, Belarus, Bosnia Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia and Montenegro, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Margaret Willson | alfa
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