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Cancer deaths fall in France

Study shows steep drops among all ages and in all regions over the past 20 years

CANCER deaths have dropped 22 per cent among men in the past 20 years, and 14 per cent among women.

There were drops in all the cancer types, in all age ranges and in all regions of France, a study by national cancer institute Inca shows. Among men, deaths per 100,000 people went from 209 in 1983-87 to 163 in 2003-07; the women’s figures were 93 to 80.

Better screening, new treatments and the fight against smoking and alcohol abuse have all helped. Even where cancers cannot be cured, people are living longer with them.

Among men, the alcohol and smoking factor has had the strongest effect. The lower overall drop among women is mainly because women are smoking more than before.

An Inca spokeswoman said: "Women are protected from certain cancers by hormones they produce, notably during maternity. Lifestyle risk factors are also lesser: they have traditionally drunk and smoked less, so there were fewer cancers of the digestive and urinary system and lungs, though sadly the difference is becoming less; there are a lot more cases of women’s lung cancer than before."

She said Inca believes, however, that the general trend of a lower overall death rate will continue: "Treatment is improving considerably. The survival rates for a lot of cancers are now at least 80 per cent: breast, cervix, testicle, leukaemia... because we have extremely powerful medicines and we are managing to diagnose cancers earlier."

Cancer is still however the most common cause of death for men in France (33 per cent) and second most common for women (after circulatory diseases such as strokes) at 23 per cent. Prostate is the most common kind for men and breast for women. In total, from 2003 to 2007, an average of 147,851 people a year died of cancer.

The Inca spokeswoman said: "The key thing is for people to go and be screened. The more they do, the earlier we pick up on cancers and the fewer deaths there will be."

Women are invited to be screened at 50 for cervical, breast and colonic cancer, and men for colonic. However, there is no national programme for prostate screening; this is done case by case on the advice of GPs.

"Screening the whole population is not necessarily useful because prostate cancer often develops very slowly and it may not be worth treating: there can be more damage from the treatment, such as incontinence or impotence."

However research is being done to identify men most at risk, to help GPs target them. "In the same way, plans are under way to screen women aged 40-50 if they are at risk; childless women, people who have had long hormonal treatments or women who smoke a lot."

The international Globocan study, which monitors cancer trends, shows that, in 2008, male cancer deaths in France were down to 144 per 100,000 and women’s to 77; better than the European average of 155 and 90. Britain’s figures were 133 and 102.

In other words, men are more likely and women less likely to die of cancer in France compared to the UK.

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