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Lung cancer deaths in the UK set to tumble

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 June 2002

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Lung cancer deaths in the UK will tumble in the next five years, as health campaigners begin to win the war against tobacco, a detailed Europe-wide study of smoking trends predicts1.

The study2, published in the British Journal of Cancer, calculates that mortality will drop by 20 per cent in men and eight per cent in women over the time period.

And deaths among under-55s – which are sensitive to the most recent trends in tobacco use – will drop even more sharply.

But while the picture is relatively rosy in Britain, in parts of Europe it remains bleak, with both smoking rates and deaths from lung cancer likely to stay high.

Researchers obtained official mortality figures for 20 European countries from the World Health Organisation. They computed predictions on future lung cancer deaths using a complex statistical programme, which took into account trends in smoking rates, changes in the strength and tar levels of cigarettes, air pollution in different countries and the age of their populations.

In the UK, they predicted that deaths from lung cancer among men under the age of 75 would decrease significantly, by one in five. In the under 55s, they predicted decreases of 26 per cent in men and 15 per cent in women.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Brennan, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, comments: “Health campaigns in the UK have been extremely successful at persuading people – particularly men – to kick the habit, and as a result deaths from lung cancer are starting to come down.

“But sadly, across Europe the anti-smoking message doesn’t seem to be getting across. Among men death rates are remaining high, while women’s rates are lower but often going up.”

In the UK, 28 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women are smokers, down from 42 per cent in men and 37 per cent of women 20 years ago. But in many other European countries, the picture regarding tobacco consumption and lung cancer is bleak.

In France, lung cancer mortality – already higher overall than in the UK – will increase by two per cent in men and 31 per cent in women over the five-year period. Hungary’s rates of lung cancer – currently the highest in the world – will also continue to increase.

Prof Gordon McVie, Director General of Cancer Research UK, owners of the British Journal of Cancer, comments: “It’s good news that so many people in this country are turning their back on smoking. But the last thing we should be is complacent – there are still far, far too many smoking related deaths.

“Young women in particular are seemingly immune to anti-smoking campaigns and we need to find new ways of getting the message across. It’s also depressing that our European partners are being much less successful in persuading people to give up the habit. This highlights the importance of international collaboration in the ongoing battle against the tobacco industry.”



  1. British Journal of Cancer87 (1)
  2. The research involved collaboration between the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the University of Plymouth.