Cancer number one cause of death in 2008

Last year, cancer mortality exceeded cardiovascular mortality for the first time. Cardiovascular mortality rate is declining much more rapidly than cancer mortality. 

Cancer and cardiovascular mortality in 2008*


More people die from cancer than from cardiovascular diseases

In 2008, more people died from cancer than from cardiovascular diseases, thus making cancer the number one cause of death. In the first ten months of last year, 33.9 thousand individuals died of cancer, as against 33.1 thousand cardiovascular deaths. Cancer has been the main cause of death in the male population since 2005. Cancer is the second most important cause of death for women after cancer, but the gap is closing rapidly. 

Cancer and cardiovascular mortality relative to total mortality, 1970-2008


Cancer accounts for 30 percent of annual deaths

Cancer as number one cause of death is predominantly due to a major reduction in the number of cardiovascular deaths. Since the mid-1980s, the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases has been reduced considerably. At the same time, the number of cancer deaths has gradually risen. In 1970 cancer and cardiovascular diseases accounted for respectively 23 and 45 percent of total annual mortality. Currently, both account for approximately 30 percent of annual mortality.  

Cancer mortality and cardiovascular mortality, 1970-2008*


Risk of dying from cancer reduced 

Although cancer mortality has increased annually as the proportion of older people in the Dutch population is growing, the risk of dying from cancer has been reduced since the mid-1980s. The decline is mainly observed among men. In the female population, the decline has been very modest over the years. This is predominantly due to a higher lung cancer incidence in the female population caused by women’s smoking behaviour a few decades ago.

Cancer mortality by type of cancer, January-October 2008


Lung cancer most frequent type of cancer

Although the rate is declining, lung cancer is still much more common among men. The second most common type of cancer in the male population is prostate cancer. The prostate cancer mortality rate is gradually rising. The increase is closely related to the ageing population.
Lung cancer is becoming more frequent among women.
Due to a simultaneous decline in breast cancer mortality, lung cancer has been the most common type of cancer for women since 2007. 

Jan Hoogenboezem and Joop Garssen