Scientists from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund say that in 16 out of 20 countries analysed, there was a levelling off or fall in the overall death rate in recent years after many decades of alarming rises. Increased awareness, earlier and better treatment, and changes in child-bearing patterns may be responsible, the scientists said.
Countries showing a downturn in deaths were generally those with the highest death rates, including the UK and Canada, while countries with the lowest rates, such as Poland and Spain, were those in which the number of deaths has been rising recently.
Carol Hermon and Valerie Beral, who work at the ICRF's Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, analysed death rates from 1950 to 1992 in 20 countries in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Their conclusions, published in the British Journal of Cancer, suggest that further falls are likely.
Ms Hermon said: "The decline is mainly among the generations of women born after 1920. We really do not know why these favourable trends have been happening, nor why the decline in mortality started in younger women."
The same team last year reported that breast cancer death rates were starting to fall in the UK. Wider use of the drug tamoxifen was thought to be a factor, rather than the NHS breast screening programme, which researchers said had not been in operation long enough to make a significant impact.
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