Pancreatic cancer stands alone as an increasingly deadly threat to both men and women in Europe, a study shows.
Experts called for priority to be given to preventing and treating the disease, which is predicted to kill 82,300 people in the EU this year.
The new research shows proportionately more people are dying from pancreatic cancer, while deaths from other cancers are falling, with the exception of lung cancer in women. This is because generations of women took up smoking later than men.
Since overall cancer mortality in Europe peaked in 1988, it will have dropped by 26 per cent for men and 20 per cent for women in 2014, say the researchers.
The new figures translate to an estimated 250,000 deaths avoided compared with 1988, according to the findings published in the journal Annals of Oncology.
Lead scientist Professor Carlo La Vecchia, from the University of Milan, said: “Our predictions for 2014 confirm that pancreatic death rates are continuing to increase overall.
“This year we predict that 41,300 men and 41,000 women will die from pancreatic cancer – an age standardised rate of eight and 5.6 deaths respectively per 100,000 of the population.
“This represents a small but steady increase since the beginning of this century. Between 2000-2004, death rates from the disease were 7.6 per 100,000 men and five per 100,000 women.
“The increased death rate is cause for concern, because the prognosis for this tumour is bleak, with less than 5 per cent of pancreatic cancer patients surviving for five years after diagnosis.
The study looked at cancer rates in the whole of the EU, encompassing the 27 member states it included in 2007.
Data based on death certificates and population were collected for stomach, bowel, pancreatic, lung, breast, uterus (including cervical), and prostate cancers, as well as leukaemias.
The analysis showed that absolute numbers of cancer deaths had increased since 2009 when the last mortality figures for the EU were published by the World Health Organisation.
However, the proportion of the population dying had fallen by 7 per cent for men and 5 per cent for women.
This year, 742,500 men and 581,100 women in the EU were expected to die from some form of cancer.
Among men, predicted rates for lung, bowel and prostate cancer had fallen by 8 per cent, 4 per cent and 10 per cent respectively since 2009.
Breast and bowel cancer rates for women fell by 9 per cent and 7 per cent. But lung cancer death rates were expected to rise by 8 per cent.
What is driving the worsening trend for pancreatic cancer is unclear. But major risk factors for the disease include smoking, alcohol consumption, and family history.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Paolo Boffetta, associate editor for epidemiology at the Annals of Oncology and director of the Institute of Translational Epidemiology at the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, New York, said: “These results are extremely important in showing that reducing cancer mortality can be achieved.
“Priority should be given to research in cancers with unfavourable trends, such as pancreatic cancer, and in reducing cancer mortality disparities, both between countries (Central/Eastern versus Western Europe), and within countries, for example, between socio-economic groups.”