For some years now, cancer has been second in the list of diseases that kill the most. Although it has greatly improved its detection, its approach and the arsenal available to deal with it, tumours continue to be one of the main threats to global health. And so it will continue to be in the near future, according to the latest forecasts.
This was confirmed again on Monday by a study carried out by Italian researchers who, with the records of recent years in hand, made an estimate for 2019: over the course of this year will die of cancer about 1.4 million Europeans.
The figures are almost 5% higher than in 2014, but scientists, led by Carlo La Vecchia of the University of Milan, warn that this does not mean that mortality rates associated with this disease are increasing. In fact, if age adjustments are taken into account, what the numbers say is that, in general, they are falling (around 6% in men and 4% in women compared to 2014).
The explanation that more people in the EU will die of cancer in 2019 than in 2014 is simple. According to La Vecchia, this increase is due to the increase and, above all, the ageing of the European population.
“The risk of suffering from a tumour increases exponentially with age”, explains Aitana Calvo, scientific secretary of the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM) and oncologist of the Gregorio Marañón Hospital in Madrid, who gives an enlightening example: “From the age of 85 onwards, one out of every two males and one out of every three females will develop a tumour” due to the genetic mutations that their organism accumulates over time.
In the conclusions of his work, the scientist also underlines that the fact that future forecasts are more promising for men is explained by the different smoking patterns in both sexes. “In most European countries, smoking began to be frequent for women in the 1970s, in generations born between 50 and 60. They are developing the current lung cancer epidemic. However, he continues, “this epidemic occurred much earlier in men. And now we are seeing its decline.
According to forecasts, lung tumours are the type of cancer that will cause the most deaths in 2019 on the continent, with 183,200 deaths in men and 96,800 in women.
Even so, the mortality rate of this cancer will be decreasing in men: If in 2014 35.6 men per 100,000 men died from this tumour, in 2019 this figure will fall slightly to 32.3/100,000. In women, however, there is a slight increase from 14.2 to 14.8.
Also in colorectal, breast, prostate, bladder or stomach cancer there is a downward trend in age-adjusted mortality rates. In fact, of the 10 types of cancer studied by the researchers, only that of the pancreas appears ‘stagnant’, with no predicted improvement in its prognosis.
THE CASE OF SPAIN
In addition to a global prediction, the report has also provided a detailed overview of the six most populous countries in the Union, including Spain.
According to their data, 115,100 cancer deaths will occur in our country in 2019 (69,500 in men and 45,600 in women), a figure in line with the latest data provided by the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), which earlier this year estimated 112,939 deaths caused by cancer in 2016.
In men, lung cancer will again be the first in the list of most lethal, with 17,300 deaths (a figure only slightly higher than 2014: 17,212). In women, however, breast cancer is the one that will cause the most deaths (6,300), although the increase in deaths due to lung tumors is significant (4,800 compared to 4,058 in 2014).
The report has also made a special analysis of the evolution of breast cancer throughout Europe. According to their data, deaths due to this type of tumour have fallen by 35% in the last three decades, an achievement due “to the reduction in the use of hormone replacement therapy and an improvement in both screening programmes, early detection and treatments”.
Due to the ageing of the population, however, the total number of deaths from breast cancer is not falling, which, according to the editor-in-chief of Annals of Oncology, Frabrice André, is a challenge for society and reminds us that it is necessary to deepen prevention policies.
According to Calvo, “up to 40% of new cases of cancer” can be prevented by adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as avoiding tobacco and alcohol, eating a healthy diet, exercising and maintaining an adequate weight.
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