Women's health

Fall in breast cancer death rates

Fall in breast cancer death rates Improved treatment

Breast cancer death rates in Britain have fallen by more than 10 per cent over five years, new figures show.

Death rates in British women due to the disease have dropped so far they are now similar or slightly lower than those in France and Germany, according to a study by Italian and Swiss researchers.

The study used World Health Organization and European Union data to estimate the number of deaths and death rates from cancer for the whole of the EU and in six individual countries - the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain.

In 2007, the breast cancer death rate in the UK was 18.39 per 100,000, but this is predicted to drop to 15.95 per 100,000, a fall of 13 per cent over the five years.

However, the improved UK figures are still slightly higher than the predicted EU average of 14.9 deaths per 100,000 women in 2012.

[Related feature: How to check for breast cancer]

A key finding of the study is that the expected reduction in breast cancer death rates will be seen in younger women, not just in middle-aged and older women who may be getting screened for the disease.

Study leader Professor Carlo La Vecchia, from the University of Milan, said: "The fact that there will be substantial falls in deaths from breast cancer, not only in middle age, but also in the young, indicates that important advancements in treatment and management are playing a major role in the decline in death rates.

"In general, many important risk factors for breast cancer, including menstrual and reproductive factors, physical activity and obesity, have not changed favourably, and breast cancer incidence has probably not gone down, yet deaths from the disease are declining."

Breast cancer remains the leading cause of female cancer deaths in the EU as a whole. In 2012, 88,000 women are expected to die from it.

Dr Rachel Greig, senior policy officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "Whilst we know breast cancer incidence is on the increase, it's reassuring to see positive indications that the rate of breast cancer deaths could decrease in 2012.

"At Breakthrough we know better awareness and treatment are leading to more people than ever surviving the disease.

"However, 12,000 women are still dying every year in the UK so we must continue to invest in research and education and women must continue to be breast aware."

The study is published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

This article was published on Wed 29 February 2012

Image © Arto - Fotolia.com

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