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Cancer overtakes heart disease as number one killer

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

7th November 2012 - More people in England and Wales now die from cancer than from heart disease, according to official figures.

The figures coincide with a new study which finds that the cost of cancer to the UK is more than £15 billion.

The Office for National Statistics found that in 2011 cancers accounted for 30% of all deaths, while circulatory diseases, which include deaths from heart disease and strokes, accounted for 29%.

This reverses the situation in the previous year in which cardiovascular disease was recorded as the leading cause of death.


Commenting on the statistics, Duleep Allirajah, head of policy at Macmillan Cancer Support, says in a statement: "It is worrying to see that the proportion of cancer deaths has risen making it the biggest killer in England and Wales for 2011.

"In light of these figures it is absolutely vital that NHS in England is measured against cancer survival rates.

"The Government and the NHS Commissioning Board must take heed of the ONS figures and ensure one-year and five-year survival indicators for all cancers are included in their relevant outcomes frameworks. This will provide a strong incentive for the NHS to improve in this area."

Mubeen Bhutta, policy manager at the British Heart Foundation, says in a statement: "Once again we have seen a decline in the number of people dying from heart disease. However, it remains the single biggest killer.

"The governments in England and Wales are currently working on strategies to tackle heart disease and these new figures should give them a fresh sense of urgency.

"Not everyone has benefitted from this decline equally as the least well off still shoulder a disproportionate burden. Addressing inequalities should be top of our politicians' to do lists."

The cost of cancer

A new study has found that the cost to the UK from cancer is £15.8 billion. Of this, researchers at the University of Oxford say:

  • £7.6 billion is attributable to premature deaths and time off work
  • £5.6 billion is down to healthcare costs
  • £2.6 billion is because of unpaid care by friends and family

Lung cancer was the most expensive to treat, with each patient costing the UK health system on average £9,071 annually, compared with £2,756 for bowel cancer, £1,584 for prostate cancer and £1,076 for breast cancer survivors.

Research author Jose Leal from the university's Health Economics Research Centre, says in a statement: "Lung cancer costs more than any other cancer - mainly because of potential wage losses due to premature deaths from people in employment - about 60% of the total economic costs - and high health care costs. The death rate from the disease remains high at 56 deaths per 100,000 people in the UK population annually, and almost a quarter of these occur before retirement."

Research priorities

Jose Leal says the wider costs from cancer should be taken into account when deciding research priorities because cancers with the highest economic cost could offer the highest expected returns from investment in research.

His study is being presented today to the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool.

Dr Jane Cope, director of the NCRI, says in a statement: "These figures remind us that cancer has a cost, not just in professional healthcare but also in loss of earnings for patients, and for loved ones who give up work to look after them.

"Since 86% of lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking, we can reduce these financial and societal costs by helping people to stop smoking."

Reviewed on November 07, 2012

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