Parts of Europe are reaching a “tipping point” where cardiovascular disease is no longer the leading cause of death, a study shows.Four million deaths each year – nearly half the European total – are due to cardiovascular disease.
But a report in the European Heart Journal shows improving heart health means cancer is now a bigger killer in some countries, such as Denmark.
Yet eastern European countries are lagging far behind.
The number of deaths from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks and strokes, has been falling for decades.
Lifestyle improvements, including a fall in smoking, as well as better treatments are behind the trend.
Now the University of Oxford analysis shows cancer is causing more deaths than cardiovascular disease in men in 10 countries: Belgium, Denmark, France, Israel, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and San Marino.
In just one country – Denmark – cancer deaths have overtaken cardiovascular disease in women.
The report said: “In these predominately high income countries a ‘tipping point’ is rapidly approaching when cancer deaths will outnumber cardiovascular disease deaths, particularly among men.”
One of the researchers Dr Mike Rayner told the Surgical Blog: “It is due to the decline in cardiovascular disease not an increase in cancer.
“There have been improvements in the incidence and treatment of cardiovascular disease and we haven’t seen the same improvements in cancer.”
However, 15 countries out of the 52 analysed, had four times the number of cardiovascular deaths in women as deaths from cancer.
The highest death rates were in some eastern European countries.
The report showed that cardiovascular deaths in 55- to 59-year-old men in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Ukraine were all higher than the death rate in French men who were 20 years older.
Dr Rayner said: “Overall deaths are coming down, faster in some countries than others, but it is still the biggest killer in Europe.”
Simon Gillespie, the chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “It’s good news that the number of lives being taken too soon by cardiovascular disease is falling across Europe.
“However, the fact remains that heart disease and stroke remain the biggest cause of death among Europeans.
“Perhaps surprisingly, more women are dying from cardiovascular disease than men.
“These figures are a stark reminder that women need to be more aware of their heart health as heart disease kills almost three times as many women as breast cancer.”