Objectives: This paper aims to describe socioeconomic inequalities in lung cancer mortality in Europe and to get further insight into socioeconomic inequalities in lung cancer mortality in different European populations by relating these to socioeconomic inequalities in overall mortality and smoking within the same or reference populations. Particular attention is paid to inequalities in Eastern European and Baltic countries.
Methods: Data were obtained from mortality registers, population censuses and health interview surveys in 16 European populations. Educational inequalities in lung cancer and total mortality were assessed by direct standardization and calculation of two indices of inequality: the Relative Index of Inequality (RII) and the Slope Index of Inequality (SII). SIIs were used to calculate the contribution of inequalities in lung cancer mortality to inequalities in total mortality. Indices of inequality in lung cancer mortality in the age group 40-59 years were compared with indices of inequalities in smoking taking into account a time lag of 20 years.
Results: The pattern of inequalities in Eastern European and Baltic countries is more or less similar as the one observed in the Northern countries. Among men educational inequalities are largest in the Eastern European and Baltic countries. Among women they are largest in Northern European countries. Whereas among Southern European women lung cancer mortality rates are still higher among the high educated, we observe a negative association between smoking and education among young female adults. The contribution of lung cancer mortality inequalities to total mortality inequalities is in most male populations more than 10%. Important smoking inequalities are observed among young adults in all populations. In Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic smoking inequalities among young adult women are larger than lung cancer mortality inequalities among women aged 20 years older.
Conclusions: Important socioeconomic inequalities exist in lung cancer mortality in Europe. They are consistent with the geographical spread of the smoking epidemic. In the next decades socioeconomic inequalities in lung cancer mortality are likely to persist and even increase among women. In Southern European countries we may expect a reversal from a positive to a negative association between socioeconomic status and lung cancer mortality. Continuous efforts are necessary to tackle socioeconomic inequalities in lung cancer mortality in all European countries.