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Europe's Bad Lungs

Respiratory disease is the world's leading killer, and it is on the rise. According to the World Health Organization, of all 50.5 million deaths recorded in 1990, 9.4 million were due to respiratory diseases. By 2020, of 68 million deaths, 11.9 million will be caused by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), pneumonia, lung cancer, or tuberculosis.

Europe performs little better than the rest of the world. Respiratory diseases rank second (after cardiovascular diseases) in terms of mortality, incidence, prevalence, and costs. In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, they are already the leading killer.

The European White Book on Lung Disease, published in 2003 by the European Respiratory Society and the European Lung Foundation, produced epidemiological data for the full spectrum of lung diseases collected from all European countries for the first time. It provides a detailed overview of the evolution of lung diseases in Europe, including data on morbidity, mortality, and costs.

We have learned a great deal from the White Book . For example, lung cancer mortality rates for males fell slightly between 1960 and 1989 in some Western European countries, such as Norway and Switzerland, but are still rising for females in almost all European countries. The prevalence of COPD, which is diagnosed mainly in smokers and former smokers, ranges from 2,000 per 100,000 inhabitants to more than 10,000, with mortality rates varying between 25 and 75 per 100,000.