Cancer 'overtaking heart disease as leading cause of death in many countries'

16 August 2016

Cancer is becoming a more common cause of death than heart disease in a number of leading European nations, according to the findings of a major new study.

Published in the European Heart Journal and carried out by the University of Oxford, the research indicated that cancer has now overtaken cardiovascular disease as the main cause of death in 12 European countries, although diseases of the heart and blood vessels remain the biggest killers on a global basis.

For this study, data was compiled on the burden of cardiovascular disease across the European region, defined as the 53 member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO), for 2016. It was indicated that heart diseases cause more than four million deaths each year across all of the countries, accounting for 45 per cent of all deaths. However, improvements in the prevention and treatment of these conditions have led to significant decreases in a number of countries.

It was shown that in the UK - as well as Belgium, Denmark, France, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain - more men are now dying of cancer than of cardiovascular conditions, a state of affairs that was mirrored among women in Denmark and Israel.

According to the report, this change in trends can be attributed largely to the improved management of heart conditions among many countries in western Europe. However, the fact this shift is not being seen across all regions indicates a certain degree of inequality in terms of the pace of this progress.

Illustrating this, the data showed that 33 per cent of deaths in the 15 countries that were members of the EU before 2004 were caused by cardiovascular disease - a proportion that rose to 38 per cent among nations that joined after 2004, and 54 per cent for non-EU member countries. Similar inequalities exist for premature deaths from heart disease.

The researchers also reported the number of years of life lost to deaths from cardiovascular disease or years lived with disability due to the condition, with the highest rates seen in Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Belarus and Latvia, while the lowest were observed in Luxembourg, Cyprus, Ireland, Iceland and Israel.

In response to the findings, the authors of the report called for a higher standard of monitoring and surveillance for cardiovascular diseases to be introduced on an international basis, as this is what will be needed to help address some of the current inconsistencies in the standard of heart disease care.

Study leader Dr Nick Townsend, senior researcher at the British Heart Foundation's Centre on Population Approaches for Non-Communicable Disease Prevention at the University of Oxford, said: "We need more research into why some countries are showing improved outcomes, while others are not.

"Improved data needs to be collected in all countries in order to make comparisons on deaths and suffering from cardiovascular disease between countries, so that health professionals and national governments can target interventions more effectively to reduce inequalities."

Posted by Philip Briggs

 


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