Roche's third-quarter sales rose 14 percent to 12.4 billion Swiss francs ($12.2 billion), helped by its cancer drugs and beating expectations, and it upped its forecast for flu medicine Tamiflu.

Roche, which has sealed a $47 billion buyout of U.S. partner Genentech, on Thursday nudged up its full year forecast for the drugs unit, now seeing at least high single-digit sales growth, and confirmed its earnings target.

It now sees higher sales of Tamiflu, at 2.7 billion francs this year and 700 million francs in 2010.

Hefty drug price increases and windfall sales from H1N1 swine flu have helped Big Pharma to a more successful year than feared, though the sector still has long-term problems such as greater competition for its big-selling drugs and trades at a discount to the wider market.

Diversified healthcare group Abbott Laboratories' profit beat forecasts this week thanks to strong demand for its Humira arthritis drug, a relief for investors after a disappointing sales report from rival Johnson & Johnson .

Roche trades at a premium to European rivals GlaxoSmithKline , Sanofi-Aventis , Novartis and AstraZeneca thanks to its strong position in cancer and biotech drugs and lack of exposure to generic competition.

The group had been expected to post third-quarter sales of 12.2 billion francs, according to a Reuters poll.

It had previously forecast full year sales of 2 billion francs for Tamiflu.

(Reporting by Sam Cage; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)

($1=1.017 Swiss Franc)