Are our breast cancer mortality rates catching up to Europe?
Some good news on the home front: according to research which came out last month, breast cancer mortality rates are falling faster in Britain than in any other of the six most populous countries in Europe – by a whopping 17.7% since 2010-2014.
According to the study, which was conducted by an international collective of researchers from Italy, Switzerland and the USA and published in the Annals of Oncology journal, the UK had an age-standardised breast cancer mortality rates of 18.39 per 100,000 people in 2005-2009. However, that went down to 16.19 in 2010-2014 – and should fall again to 13.33 this year.
This means that by this year the UK will have experienced the highest percentage decrease in its death rate among the countries with the biggest populations in Europe since 2010-14, and the research team credit that to our screening regime, earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
The numbers continue to rise
However, the researchers were keen to point out that a decrease in the death rate doesn’t mean a decrease in breast cancer-related deaths overall: due to an ageing population, the increase in obesity and other factors, the overall number of people dying from breast cancer in Britain is due to keep on rising.
Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that even though we’re experiencing the biggest spurt in preventing breast cancer, we still lag behind the biggest nations in Europe. And while UK cancer experts were pleased that the trend is heading in the right direction, they took great pains to point out that there’s still a way to go. “It’s really encouraging that, thanks to research advances and NHS progress, breast cancer mortality rates in the UK are finally expected to catch up with the rest of Europe,” said Lady Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Now. “But with incidence increasing and over 11,000 mothers, daughters and sisters still dying from metastatic breast cancer each year, this progress cannot come soon enough and we need to do much, much more.
“While this analysis represents very positive news, our rate of progress appears to be much greater than our neighbours largely because we have had some of the highest mortality rates in Europe for a long time.”
Cancer is receding, but population at risk is rising
In other results thrown up by the research, it is estimated that women aged 50-69 are most likely to benefit from decreasing mortality, while those aged 70-79 will gain the least. And death rates are falling for seven other major cancers too, including bowel, stomach, prostate and bladder cancer – albeit still rising for pancreatic cancer. In lung cancer – which kills more British people than any other form of cancer – mortality will fall among men but keep on rising among women, as a consequence of past changes in the gender balance of smokers.
The final summary – that overall deaths from cancer are continuing to increase across Europe as a whole and will hit 1.4m this year (up from 1.35m in 2014), demonstrates that while treatment is improving, we’re about to catch the peak of the ageing population, which will bring a whole new challenge to the medical community.