Cancer has begun to kill more people than heart disease in wealthy countries, according to research.
Heart disease has been the world’s leading killer for more than a decade but, as public health improves in well-off countries, cancer is beginning to overtake it.
A study of 160,000 people across 21 countries found twice as many deaths were caused by cancer than heart disease in the richest countries.
And it estimated middle- and high-income nations see between a quarter and a third of deaths caused by cancer, on par with heart disease in some places.
The researchers said it was ‘likely’ that cancer would one day become the world’s biggest killer as other countries catch up with efforts to reduce heart disease.
Heart disease is the second most common cause of death in the UK, officially accounting for 10.3 per cent of deaths in 2018, second only to dementia.
The British Heart Foundation claims this figure is even higher, with heart diseases actually causing more than a quarter of deaths – about 170,000 per year.
Dementia may account for fewer deaths in countries where it’s not diagnosed as accurately or where people don’t live as long.
Meanwhile, cancer is to blame for about 164,000 deaths in the UK each year, according to Cancer Research UK – about 30 per cent of the 541,000 deaths in 2018.
The way dementia is – or isn’t – recorded on death certificates around the world may mean other countries have unrealistically low rates of the brain condition.
In low-income countries, however, heart disease proved more deadly, causing 3.7 per cent of deaths compared to 1.3 per cent by cancer.
In middle-income countries, the difference was smaller – 1.4 per cent for cancer and 1.8 per cent for heart disease.
Poor countries saw heart disease causing the most deaths (41 per cent), while wealthier middle-income (41 per cent) and high-income (23 per cent) were less affected by it.
This, the Canadian researchers suggested, was because the richer nations had better healthcare and more efforts to reduce heart disease rates.
Cancer may be more of an issue in wealthier countries because of differences in people’s lifestyles, some experts suggest.
Heart disease is more deadly in poorer countries, Professor Yusuf said, because they may not have access to treatments like heart surgeries or drugs such as statins or blood pressure medications.
The high-income countries in the study were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and United Arab Emirates.
The middle-income countries were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Columbia, Iran, Malaysia, Palestine, Philippines, Poland, Turkey and South Africa.
And the lower-income countries were Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.