Lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the most lethal form of the disease for women in the UK, research has shown.

Scientists predict that, by the middle of the decade, it will be the main cause of women’s cancer death in Europe.

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The rise in cases may be due to young women taking up smoking in the late 1960s and 1970s, researchers said.

New figures show the lung cancer death rate among women in the UK is at 21 per 100,000 women.

Lung cancer has bucked the general trend of falling cancer mortality with the proportion of European men dying from cancer dropping by 6% and of women by 4% since 2009.

By contrast, deaths from lung cancer have risen by 7% for women since 2009.

This year, experts predict breast cancer to kill 88,886 women in Europe and lung cancer to kill 82,640.
Professor Carlo La Vecchia, one of the study authors from Milan University in Italy, said: “If these opposite trends in lung cancer rates continue, then in 2015 lung cancer is going to become the first cause of cancer mortality in Europe.

“This is already true in the UK and Poland, the two countries with the highest rates: 21.2 and 17.5  per 100,000 women respectively.”

Among European men, lung cancer death rates had fallen 6% since 2009. However, the disease was still the main cause of male cancer death.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, looked at cancer death rates throughout the European Union, focusing primarily on six countries including the UK.