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Cancer now primary cause of death in 12 European countries

More men now die of cancer than of cardiovascular disease in the UK

Caroline White

Monday, 15 August 2016

Cardiovascular disease remains the world’s number one killer, with an annual global toll of 17.3 million deaths, but cancer is now the main cause of death in 12 European countries, show new data* published today in the European Heart Journal.

Where men are concerned, that includes the UK.

In the European region—defined as the 53 member states of the World Health Organisation—cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes more than four million deaths a year, equivalent to nearly half (45%) of all deaths.
While cancer accounts for less than half the number of deaths than cardiovascular disease in Europe as a whole, in nine of the 15 countries which were members of the European Union before 2004 (EU-15) and in one other country that joined afterwards (EU-28), more men now die from cancer than CVD, the data show.

These countries are: Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the UK. This was also true of Norway and Israel. Among women, more die from cancer than CVD in Denmark and Israel.
“These figures highlight the wide inequalities between European countries in deaths from CVD,” commented lead researcher, Dr Nick Townsend, of the BHF Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention at the University of Oxford. “The highest numbers of deaths from CVD tend to be seen in Eastern European countries.”
In France, where cancer first overtook CVD as the main cause of death in men, figures from the most recent year available (2011) show that 92,375 men died from cancer and 64,659 died from CVD.

In Spain, the next country in which cancer deaths topped those of CVD, 67,711 men died from cancer and 53,487 died from CVD in 2013. In the same year, in the UK, 87,511 men died from cancer and 79,935 from CVD.
“Although we have seen progress across Europe in the prevention and treatment of CVD, leading to decreases in mortality from it, it is clear that the progress that has been made in Western Europe and most EU countries is yet to be achieved equally throughout the region,” he added.
Inequalities between European countries can be seen in the percentage of deaths from CVD and age standardised death rates (ASDR) per 100,000 of the population.

Out of a total of 3.8 million deaths in the EU-15 countries, one in three (33%) of these were caused by CVD (1.3 million), compared to 38% of deaths in the EU-28 countries (1.9 million) and 54% of deaths in non-EU member countries (2.1 million).
ASDRs from CVD ranged from 275 per 100,000 men and 174 per 100,000 women in France, to 1,444 per 100,000 men and 1,087 per 100,000 women in Kyrgyzstan. In the UK, the figures were 334 men and 228 women per 100,000.
Similar inequalities exist for premature deaths under the age of 75. In the EU-15 countries, a fifth (21.4%) were from CVD (0.25 million); in the EU-28 countries, a quarter (26%) were from CVD (0.45 million); and in non-EU countries, 35.8% were caused by CVD (1.3 million).
For the first time, the researchers also report the number of years of life lost to deaths from CVD or years lived with disability due to the condition (DALYS). One DALY is equivalent to one year of healthy life lost. These also underlined the inequalities between different parts of Europe.
The number of DALYS lost to CVD in 2012 were highest in Ukraine (194 per 1,000 of the population), Russian Federation (181 per 1,000), Bulgaria (167 per 1,000), Belarus (163 per 1,000), and Latvia (153 per 1,000). They were lowest in Luxembourg (39 per 1,000), Cyprus (37 per 1,000), Ireland (35 per 1,000), Iceland (32 per 1,000), and Israel (26 per 1,000).
“We need more research into why some countries are showing improved outcomes, while others are not, so that health professionals and national governments can target interventions more effectively to reduce inequalities,” said Dr Townsend.
“In particular, we need better figures on the numbers of new cases and the numbers of people living with CVD across Europe, as well as better data on the hidden burden of CVD – CVD that has not been identified by health services or included in national statistics. This would be invaluable to people working in public health, to help us identify problem areas and design better prevention and treatment strategies,” he said.

* Townsend N, et al. Cardiovascular disease in Europe: epidemiological update 2016. European Heart Journal. First published online: 14 August 2016. DOI:10.1093/eurheartj/ehw334

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