Living longer could be responsible for a surge in cancer deaths across the European Union.

Cancer has overtaken cardiovascular disease as the leading killer in 12 European nations for the first time. Cancer is now responsible for a higher death rate in males than heart disease in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Israel and the United Kingdom. This data is published in the European Heart Journal.

The study also reports that the cancer now kills more women than heart disease in Denmark and Israel.


Surge In Cancer Deaths Across Europe

Cancer has overtaken cardiovascular disease as the leading killer in 12 European nations for the first time.

Although cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide, CVD deaths are decreasing in Western Europe. Cancer deaths continue to rise.

Study leader and senior researcher at the British Heart Foundation Centre Dr Nick Townsend, said: “Fewer people have cardiovascular disease and more are surviving it.” There has been big improvements in treatments, with specialized heart units and use of stents in hospitals meaning people who do have heart attacks and strokes are more likely to survive.

Dr Townsend stated that lifestyle factors such as drinking, smoking, diet and exercise have an impact on approximately 85% of CVD cases.

Europe's Ageing Population

Cancer rates are steadily on the rise as people live longer. Lifestyle choices are responsible for 40-50% of cases with the remainder due to genetics and other factors.

This tells us that the improvements in lifestyle seen over the last 50 years have had a more significant impact on heart disease than on cancer.

Age is the number one reason for cancer rates consistently rising. For example in the UK , more than three-quarters of all people diagnosed with cancer are over the age of 60. Britain’s ageing population means more people than ever before will reach the age where they are at higher risk of being diagnosed with the illness.

Study Highlights Inequalities Between European Countries

Inequalities between European countries are illustrated by the percentage of deaths from CVD. Out of a total of 3.8 million deaths in the EU, In 15 countries, one in three (33%) of these were caused by CVD, compared to 38% of deaths in the EU: 28 countries. 54% of deaths in non-EU member countries.

“These figures highlight the wide inequalities between European countries in deaths from heart disease and stroke.” says study leader Nick Townsend. “Highest numbers of deaths from heart disease and stroke still tend to be seen in Eastern European countries. Although we have seen progress across Europe in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and stroke, it is clear that such progress is not consistent across the continent,” he said.

Combating Cancer

Since cancer is now the leading killer in several countries, it is important to look closely at ways of reducing our risk. Studies reveal that nearly half of people who get cancer are diagnosed late. This increases the likelihood of the disease being spread within the body. The domino effect of this is that it makes the cancer less treatable and therefore reduces the patient’s chances of survival while also increasing the cost of effective treatment.

The good news is that we could potentially cut the number of cancer deaths by half if early and regular screening was routine for everyone. Pair that with making healthier lifestyle choices and our risk of disease would be reduced significantly.

Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley