Cancer overtakes cardiovascular disease as UK's No. 1 killer among men

Research published online in the journal Heart reveals that cancer has overtaken cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, as the UK's No 1 killer – but only among men. Cardiovascular disease is still the most common cause of death among women, and kills more young women than breast cancer, the figures show.

The researchers used the latest nationally available data (2012-13) for each of the four UK countries, and the Cardiovascular Disease Statistics 2014 report compiled for the British Heart Foundation (BHF), to quantify the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, and find out how it's treated, how much it costs, and how many deaths it causes. For the first time since the middle of the 20th century, cancer overtook cardiovascular disease as the primary cause of death in 2012.

 Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, circulatory system disease, and other vascular/arterial disease. The researchers analysed entries to the Clinical Practice Research Datalink GOLD database, the world's largest repository of anonymised records for primary care, plus information from the family doctor (GP) quality improvement scheme known as QOF, and figures on episodes of inpatient hospital care.

The analysis indicated that just short of 2.3 million people were living with some form of coronary heart disease in 2012. Around half a million were living with heart failure and a further 1.1 million were living with an abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation). England had the lowest prevalence of all cardiovascular conditions out of the four UK countries. The proportion of deaths attributable to cancer was 29%, while cardiovascular disease accounted for 28%. But this was only true of men; cardiovascular disease still killed more women than cancer. Almost one in three deaths (32%) in men were caused by cancer compared with 29% for cardiovascular disease. The equivalent figures were 27% and 28%, respectively, for women.

Cardiovascular disease accounted for a total of nearly 42,000 premature deaths (before the age of 75) in 2012, accounting for more than one in four premature deaths in men and around one in five (18%) in women. But it still killed more young women than did breast cancer. Once again, there were wide regional variations in death rates. There were higher rates in Scotland (347/100,000 of the population) and the North of England (320/100,000), and lower rates in the South of England.

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Medical Director of Check4Cancer, comments: “Not long ago, Cancer Research UK announced the result of a survey that showed cancer was the UK’s No.1 fear, ahead of violent crime, car crash and a heart attack. It would seem that those fears were justified. Cancer is now at an epidemic level, which makes it more important than ever that we focus our efforts on early detection to increase sufferers’ chances of survival. Breast cancer – which has a rising incidence in the UK, but a falling mortality rate – shows that we can make a difference.”