European cancer deaths in decline

All Clear' campaign aims to boost awareness and research.

Radiotherapy is just one tool that helps keep cancer at bay Credit: © Science Photo Library

Fewer people in Europe are dying from cancer now than a generation ago, according to two recent surveys. But while survival is on the up, so too is the number of new cancer cases, prompting calls for further research funding.

In Britain there are 12% fewer cancer-related deaths than there were 30 years ago, according to data from Cancer Research UK. The good news holds for a range of different cancers ? the female death rate from breast cancer is down by 20%, and the male death rate from testicular cancer has fallen by 37%.

Deaths from stomach cancer are down by about half in most of Europe, according to research from the Institut Universitaire de Médecine Sociale et Préventive in Lausanne, Switzerland1 ? a finding echoed by the Cancer Research UK study.

The reduced death rates are due to a combination of factors, says Peter Selby, director of the Cancer Research UK Unit at St James's University Hospital in Leeds. Antibiotics and better sanitation are helping to rid the world of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium thought to cause stomach cancer. And screening programmes help to catch breast and cervical cancer early, when treatments may be more effective.

Therapies have also improved. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are commonly used to remove tumours and keep re-growth at bay.

People are tending to smoke less and eat more healthily. Smoking, for example, is responsible for around 90% of all lung-cancer cases. Eating lots of salted, cured and smoked foods may increase the risk of stomach cancer. The healthier lifestyle enjoyed today by many may reduce cancer risk.

"The fall in death rates is encouraging," says cancer epidemiologist Michel Coleman of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. But as the population grows, more people are developing cancer than ever before.

Around the world an estimated 10 million people every year find that they have cancer. "Research funding needs to continue and accelerate so that more people survive the disease in the next generation," Coleman says.

The figures are released today to coincide with charity's second birthday and the launch of their new 'All Clear' campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness and funds for cancer-related research.

"We understand so much more about the disease now than we did a generation ago," says Selby. "But unravelling the disease opens up more and more avenues for the development of new methods of preventing, treating and curing cancer."


  1. 1

    Levi, F. et al. Monitoring falls in gastric cancer mortality in Europe. Annals of Oncology, 15, 338 - 345, (2004).

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Pilcher, H. European cancer deaths in decline. Nature (2004).

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