There were nearly 2.9 million new cases of cancer and more than 1.7 million cancer deaths in the European Union last year, according to new estimates published in the Annals of Oncology (doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdi098).
And the ageing of the European population means that these figures will continue to rise, warn the authors, even if incidence and mortality rates for specific age groups remain constant.
Scientific research has shown that at least half of all cases of cancer could be prevented through changing lifestyle factors such as diet. Diet is known to play a role in risk of colorectal and stomach cancer, and possibly also lung and breast cancer, the four biggest killers identified by the new report.
For example, there is increasing evidence to suggest that calcium protects against colorectal cancer, while salty foods are shown to increase risk of stomach cancer.
The fibres and other compounds found in fruit and vegetables are also thought to reduce risk of cancer although recently researchers have argued that the cancer-protective effect may have been 'overstated'.
However the same researchers suggest that the benefit to other areas of health from consuming these types of foods mean they should not be ruled out.
Lead author of the new report Professor Peter Boyle, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, commented: "While prospects are encouraging as regards screening for breast cancer in terms of mortality reduction, progress is too slow concerning colorectal cancer prevention. Progress is only possible through a joint European effort."
Lung cancer was the commonest form of cancer diagnosed (13.2 per cent) and of cancer death (20 per cent). Colorectal cancer was almost equally common.
Among women, breast cancer was by far the most common, representing 27.4 per cent of all female cases and it was also the biggest killer with nearly 130,000 deaths - 17.4 per cent of the total.
Prostate cancer was the commonest form of cancer diagnosed in men in 2004 in the European Union.