How cancer rates have exploded in France in the last 30 years

A new long-range study into cancer rates in France has revealed a terrifying statistic - rates of cancer in women have seen a 93 percent increase since 1990.

How cancer rates have exploded in France in the last 30 years
Cancer cases have increased in France. Photo: SimpleFoto/Depositphotos

The French public health body Santé publique France and the French national cancer institute have reported on the detailed trends of cancer cases and treatment in the country from 1990 to 2018.

The eye-catching statistic is the huge increase in the number of cancer cases being reported compared to 30 years ago – for men the increase is 65 percent and for women 93 percent.


French women such as Brigitte Bardot were heavy smokers in the 1960s, and lung cancer rates have increased since. Photo: AFP

In 1990 there were 215,000 cases of cancer recorded, which had increased to 382,000 by 2018.

Although there was also some good news – success rates for treatment have also seen a dramatic improvement.

So what is behind this huge increase?

There are two main factors – an ageing population and a delayed effect from the big increase in women smoking from the 1960s onwards.

The rate of lung cancer among women has increased by five percent every year since 1990 and now 45 percent of all cancers among women in France are lung cancer.

“These are women who started smoking in the 1960s, when social marketing suggested that it was good,” Anne Gallay, director of non-communicable diseases at Santé Publique France, told BFMTV.

In the 1960s cigarettes were heavily marketed towards women and smoking developed a 'cool' image among French women.

Lung cancer can be very slow acting, so the lung cancer results being seen today are a delayed result of increased smoking levels in the 1960s.

The other factor is the ageing population.

In fact a closer look at the figures suggests that the risk to each person of getting cancer has only risen by six percent, it's simply that people are living longer and statistically older people are more likely to get cancer. The population of France is also growing, which leads to more cases being recorded.

So although more people are getting cancer, your chances of developing it are only slightly higher.

And some cancers are showing a decrease in cases – mostly thanks to screening programmes and early detection.

There was a 3.5 percent drop in the number of prostate cancer cases per year, along with a 0.6 percent fall in the number of colorectal cancer cases. Breast cancer cases saw a very small increase – just 0.6 percent.

And if you do get cancer, the chances of a successful treatment are considerably higher than they were in 1990. Overall, mortality has dropped by 54 percent in men and 25 percent in women.







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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.