The number of women dying from breast cancer in the European Union is expected to drop by nine percent this year thanks to advances in treatments, researchers said on Wednesday.
In the 20-49 age group specifically, the death rate in 2012 will fall by as much as 13 percent, the Italian-Swiss study found. Breast cancer is the leading cause of female cancer deaths in the EU, accounting for 15 percent of all cancer deaths.
Although deaths from the disease are declining, the incidence rate has "probably" not gone down, according to the paper published in the journal "Annals of Oncology."
There will be nearly 1.3 million deaths from all forms of cancer in the EU this year, researchers estimate -- 717,398 men and 565,703 women.
"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," said Carlo La Vecchia, a professor at Milan University's faculty of medicine and one of the leaders of the study.
Overall cancer death rates will be 139 per 100,000 men and 85 per 100,000 women in 2012, a fall of 10 and seven percent respectively compared to 2007 data.
Deaths from lung cancer are continuing to rise among women but declining among men for whom it is the deadliest cancer. Rates of pancreatic cancer are rising among both men and women, a finding which surprised the study authors given the decline in smoking.
"Smoking and being overweight or obese are known to be risk factors for pancreatic cancer and so the increasing prevalence of obesity may be a reason," said La Veccia.
"Another may be better diagnosis and certification. We do not know the causes of 70 percent of pancreatic cancers, but this rise is certainly not reassuring."
The study was co-authored by cancer specialist Professor Fabio Levi from Lausanne University and used data on EU cancer deaths for the period 1970-2007 to produce a 2012 estimate.