Research in the journal Annals of Oncology showed that the switch has already occurred in Poland and the UK where lung cancer rates in women are higher than breast cancer.

The researchers said this represents a wave of women who began to smoke in the 1960s and 1970s. The trend will steadily decline because the rates of younger women smoking is far lower.

The scientists looked at cancer rates in the whole EU in 2007, covering additional cancers such as stomach, intestine, prostate, uterine, cervical, leukemias and pancreatic.

They found that people are indeed developing cancer at a higher rate, but this is because they are living longer and not dying from the cancers.

Prof La Vecchia, of the University of Milan, Italy, said " ... for lung cancer, we expect death rates to start to go down in around 2020 or 2025 now that the new generation of women are smoking less."

In 2013, around 82,640 European women will die from lung cancer, while 88,886 will die from breast cancer. By 2015, the numbers will switch and lung cancer rates will surpass breast cancer rates.

"It's encouraging to see that overall the rate of people dying from cancer in Europe is predicted to continue falling," said Sarah Williams, of Cancer Research UK. "This reflects improvements in what we know about how to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer and shows that through research we are making inroads against the disease. But deaths from lung cancer in women are still rising, reflecting smoking rates in previous decades, so sadly most of these deaths were avoidable.These figures underline the importance of reducing the number of people who smoke -- both through helping smokers to quit and by introducing plain, standardised packaging to give young people one less reason to start. Every year 157,000 children in the UK alone, start smoking. We must try to stem that tide."

The paper was published in the journal Annals of Oncology here