Mortality rates from cancer are falling in the EU, but more than 1.2 million deaths are expected this year

Around 5.9 million cancer deaths have been averted since Europe’s peak death rate in 1988

(7 March 2023)

Despite the epidemic of new cancer cases in Italy, driven decisively by unhealthy lifestyles, the chances of survival of patients after cancer diagnosis are improving, in our country as in the rest of the EU.

A new international study published in Annals of oncology, coordinated by the University of Milan and supported by the Airc, estimates in particular a drop in the mortality rates from cancer in the EU in both men (-6.5%) and women ( -3.7%) between 2018 and 2023, even if the absolute number of deaths will increase due to population ageing: a higher proportion of elderly people in the population in fact implies a greater number of people with a high risk of developing cancer.

More specifically, in 2023 in the EU about 1,262,000 people are expected to die from cancer. Compared to the peak of cancer mortality in 1988, however, the researchers estimate that, thanks to the favorable trends observed and predicted between 1989 and 2023, around 5.9 million deaths will have been avoided in the EU.

“If the current favorable trend in cancer mortality rates were to continue – explains the state epidemiologist Carlo La Vecchia, who led the research group – a further 35% reduction by 2035 would be possible. Tobacco cessation has contributed to these trends. To maintain them over time, further efforts are needed to control the epidemic of overweight, obesity and diabetes, limit alcohol consumption, improve the use of early diagnosis screenings and therapies, and control viral infections for which there are vaccines and therapies”.

There is still ample room for improvement, particularly among women, for whom mortality rates from lung and pancreatic cancer continue to rise; among women, an increase of 3.4% for pancreatic cancer and 1% for lung cancer is in fact expected.

“Between a quarter and a third of these deaths can be attributed to smoking, and women, especially in the older age groups, have not stopped smoking,” notes Eva Negri, professor of occupational medicine at the University of Bologna.

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