Page last updated at 01:47 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Stomach cancer deaths plummet

Rates of stomach cancer varies across Europe

The number of people dying from stomach cancer dropped sharply across Europe between 1980 and 1999, figures show.

Death Rates fell by half in the European Union, by 45% in Eastern Europe and by 40% in Russia.

Writing in Annals of Oncology, experts said the decline looks set to continue into the near future.

However, they warned health bosses against becoming complacent saying the disease is still a threat to health in many countries.

Stomach cancer rates vary considerably across Europe. For instance, rates of the disease are five times higher in Russia than they are in Scandinavia or France.

1. Belarus
2. Russia
3. Ukraine
4. Estonia
5. Croatia

People living in central and eastern Europe and some Mediterranean countries are more likely to develop the disease than those living in western Europe.

The disease claimed the lives of more than 92,000 in Europe in 2000.

A team of researchers from Italy, Spain and Switzerland, examined data on stomach cancer from 25 different countries.

Fewer deaths

They found that deaths from the disease fell in every country they looked at between 1980 and 1999.

The biggest drop was in Russia. However, it had high rates of the disease to begin with and still has one of the highest rates in Europe.

In 1999, 32 out of every 100,000 men and 13 out of every 100,000 women in Russia died of stomach cancer.

This compares to Denmark where 5 out of every 100,000 men and 2 out of every 100,000 women died from the disease in 1999. Denmark has the lowest rates of stomach cancer in Europe.

Professor Fabio Levi, who is based at the Institut Universitaire de médecine sociale et préventive in Lausanne, Switzerland, said if the fall continued as predicted there would be up to 15,000 fewer deaths from stomach cancer this decade.

"We are seeing a steady and persistent fall in rates across various major geographical areas of the continent and there is little systematic indication of it levelling off over the most recent years, indicating that the decrease is likely to continue in the near future.

"In fact, if anything, the downward trend has been even steeper over the most recent calendar period."

Varied diet

Scientists do not know for sure why rates of stomach cancer have fallen so sharply in recent decades. They believe a number of factors are involved.

"These include a more varied and affluent diet and better food conservation, including refrigeration," said Professor Carlo La Vacchia, from the Instituto Mario Negri in Milan, who was also involved in the study.

"In addition, there is better control of Helicobacter pylori infection - a bacterium linked to stomach cancer - and reduced levels of smoking, at least in men.

Dr Tim Key, an epidemiologist with Cancer Research UK, welcomed the study.

"This is good news. Twenty-five years ago stomach cancer was the commonest cancer in the world," he said.

"The causes of stomach cancer are complex, but people can help to reduce their risk by not smoking and by eating fresh fruits and vegetables."

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