Cristina Cebrian. One of cancer’s biggest challenges is increasing patient survival and reducing mortality rates. In this sense, an article published in the journal Annals of Oncology offers hopeful data: mortality rates for the ten most common types of cancer will continue to decline in most European countries in 2022.
Specifically, the authors report that there will be 1,446,000 cancer deaths in the EU and the UK this year. This figure represents a drop of 6% in men (126.9 deaths per 100,000) and 4% in women (80.2 per 100,000) in the EU since 2017. In addition, in the United Kingdom, it means a decrease of 7% (113.2 per 100,000) in men and 6% (87.6 per 100,000) in women.
The researchers looked at cancer death rates in the EU and the five most populous countries: France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.
The researchers looked at cancer death rates in the 27 EU member states as a whole and, separately, in the UK to compare them with those from previous years when the country was still a member of the EU. They also analysed the five most populous countries in the EU ( France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain ). Individually, they studied tumours of the stomach, intestines, pancreas, lung, breast, uterus (including the cervix), ovary, prostate, bladder, and leukaemias in men and women.
Among the most significant declines in mortality were ovarian cancer rates, which are projected to drop by 17% in the UK and 7% in EU countries in 2022, compared to 2017. The authors, led by Dr Carlo La Vecchia, a University of Milan (Italy) professor, claim that these drastic declines are mainly due to oral contraceptives, which also explains the differences between countries.
Among the most significant declines in mortality are ovarian cancer rates, which are projected to fall by 17% in the UK and 7% in EU countries by 2022
“ Earlier and higher use of oral contraceptives in the UK than in most EU countries for generations of women born since the 1930s plays a role in these trends. In Italy, Spain, Poland, etc., oral contraceptives became available to the public much later,
Lung and ovarian cancer survival
Still, researchers predict that 26,500 women will die of ovarian cancer in EU countries in 2022 and 4,000 in the UK. After adjusting for differences in the population’s age distribution, the age-standardized rate (ASR) of deaths will be 4.32 and 4.57 women per 100,000 in the EU and UK, respectively.
In this sense, Dr La Vecchia points to smoking as one factor influencing the mortality rate. Specifically on pancreatic, lung and bladder cancer. “ The lack of progress in pancreatic cancer should set off alarms in the health institutions of the EU, as survival rates are abysmal with less than 5% of patients surviving five years,” he warns
The main exception to the favourable downward trends is pancreatic cancer. Their mortality rates continue to increase in women (3.4% more) with little change in men (0.7% less) in the EU. However, in the United Kingdom, they have fallen by 5% in men and 2% in women. Pancreatic cancer is now the third leading cause of cancer death in the EU (87,300 deaths, with a mortality rate of 8.1 and 5.9 per 100,000 in men and women, respectively), surpassing breast cancer.
The researchers warn that these predictions about positive mortality trends could change due to the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The threat of Covid-19
Thus, in 2022 alone, 369,000 have already been avoided, compared to the peak of cancer mortality in 1988. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, just over a million deaths have been avoided in the same period, of which 73,000 were in 2022.
However, the researchers warn that these predictions could change due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. “ The Covid-19 epidemic can effectively affect the positive trends in cancer mortality observed in the last decade in Europe ”, comments prof. Paolo Boffetta, Annals of Oncology associate editor for epidemiology, associate director of population sciences at Stony Brook University, United States, and professor at the University of Bologna, Italy.
“ We hope that the vaccination campaign that has been aimed at cancer patients as a priority population mitigates the adverse impact that has been observed during 2020; although these patients have a weaker immune response compared to healthy individuals ”, she concludes.