Death rates from the most common cancers are likely to fall this year, scientists have said, but the prediction comes amid warnings of the likely “marked” impact the pandemic could have on screening and early diagnosis.
Researchers forecast that there will be some 176,000 deaths from 10 major cancers in the UK by the end of the year, with rates falling overall.
The scientists said their findings correspond to death rates of 114 per 100,000 men, which is down 7.5% since 2015, and 89 per 100,000 women, down 4.5%.
The paper, published in the Annals of Oncology journal, focused on cancer of the stomach, intestines, pancreas, lung, breast, uterus (including cervix), ovary, prostate and bladder, and leukaemias for men and women.
Researchers predict that some 69,000 cancer deaths will be avoided in the UK this year.
But figures suggest there has been no overall fall in pancreatic cancer death rates, and that lung cancer death rates in women in the UK are higher than those in EU countries.
It is the 11th year in a row the researchers, led by Professor Carlo La Vecchia at the University of Milan in Italy, have published their predictions, using data on deaths from the World Health Organisation and Eurostat databases from 1970 to 2015.
The team analysed cancer death rates in the EU 27 member states as a whole and added the UK in order to be able to compare with the years before Brexit.
Prof La Vecchia warned that pancreatic cancer remains the only one showing “no overall fall in death rates over the past three decades in Europe in both sexes” and called for governments and policymakers to ensure adequate resources for the “prevention, early diagnosis and management of pancreatic cancer in order to improve these trends in the near future”.
The researchers predict that 42,300 and 5,000 men in the EU and UK respectively will die from pancreatic cancer by the end of this year.
They said the age standardised rate (ASR) of deaths in men will be eight per 100,000 and 6.5 per 100,000 in the EU and UK respectively, representing a 0.8% decline in death rates since 2015.
Among women, five per 100,000 in the UK are predicted to die, representing a 4% decline in the death rate.
Lung cancer death rates in men are 25% lower in the UK than in the 27 European countries due to “earlier and larger decreases in smoking prevalence in UK men”, said co-author Dr Fabio Levi, emeritus professor at the Faculty of Biology and Medicine, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
He said that, while lung cancer death rates in women in the UK are higher than those in the EU countries, predictions show a “favourable downward trend” in UK female lung cancer deaths.
Co-author Professor Paolo Boffetta, of the University of Bologna, Italy, said: “Although we predict that death rates in many cancers will decrease this year, the absolute number of deaths from the disease will continue to rise due to ageing populations.
“This underlines the increasing public health importance of the issue.
“Delayed cancer diagnosis and treatment due to the Covid-19 pandemic may increase the cancer burden over the next several years.”
Commenting on the research, Professor Jose Martin-Moreno, from the University of Valencia, Spain, warned that the pandemic will have an impact.
In a separate editorial to the paper, he said: “Beyond the direct harm of this new coronavirus to immunocompromised and particularly vulnerable people, there is the blow to comprehensive clinical care and the interruption of research.
“Perhaps most worrying for the long term is the paralysis of prevention programmes, screening and early diagnosis.
“Since March 2020, all of the activity linked to progress over recent decades has come to a screeching halt. It is, of course, too early to characterise the impacts, but it seems inevitable they will have marked, if not dramatic, consequences.”