Global Death Rates due to Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases

I am likely to be killed by cancer or cardiovascular diseases, according to the latest statistics of the leading major causes of death in Hong Kong and in the world. Fortunately, there is a global decreasing trend of the death rates by these 2 major killers. Before being killed by these chronic diseases, many patients have to face deteriorating health conditions and adapt to a harsh living situation for many many years. The solution lies upon our diet, environment and living style. Can we tame these killers and eliminate all these chronic diseases? Good news seems to be promising, be confident!

First of all, there is a WHO (2014) report that presents the leading causes of death in different countries. Unfortunately, it does not include Hong Kong, so I have to fetch elsewhere for comparison. Anyway, let’s show some of the countries’ results first.

Figures 1,2,3,4,5 and 6 show the summary charts of the age-standardized death rates of major non-communicable diseases in the US, the UK, China, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan, just to name a few.

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Figure 1 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in the US. Source: WHO (2014)
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Figure 2 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in the UK. Source: WHO (2014)
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Figure 3 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in China. Source: WHO (2014)
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Figure 4 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in New Zealand. Source: WHO (2014)
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Figure 5 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in Singapore. Source: WHO (2014)
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Figure 6 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in Japan. Source: WHO (2014)

Good news first, all the countries, except China, show a decreasing trend of the top 2 death rates. For example, the age-standardized death rate of cardiovascular diseases has been decreasing from 250 males out of 100,000 in 2000 to about 170 males out of 100,000 in 2012 (Figure 1). Yet, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are still accounting for 31% and 23% of deaths, the top 2 killers.

The decreasing trend seems to be quite similar in the 5 chosen countries, probably due to the fact that all of them are of high income group. Unlike the other 5, China does not share the decreasing trend. Deaths due to cardiovascular diseases is going up from about 280 out of 100,000 in 2006 to more than 300 out of 100,000 in 2012, and is still the number 1 killer.

As far as the death rates of cancer are concerned, it is noted that the decreasing trends shared by New Zealand, Singapore and Japan are not shared by the US, the UK and China. This may provide a hint on explaining the cause(s) of the decreasing trend. If you have any good hypothesis, please leave a comment below.

Taking a cross-section comparison of the proportional mortality % in 2012, all the countries, except China, share a very similar percentage for cardiovascular diseases. They just range from 29% to 32%. But it hits 45% in China. Would it be simply a result of the income difference?

For the % of cancer, all the 6 countries share a narrow range from 23% to 30%.

How about Hong Kong? As Alex Laverty (2019) queries that the high consumption of meat of Hong Kong people may have impacts on the proportional mortality percentage of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. How come would HK people enjoy the longest life expectancy?

Since Hong Kong is not included in most of the WHO studies, we have to figure out the statistics for comparison. Unfortunately, local government departments are not producing the equivalent datasets, so it may not be able to make a direct like-with-like comparison. Figure 7 is the time series of the age-standardized death rates of the top 4 non-communicable diseases. The top 2 killers are still cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but the rates and the percentages are very different from the 6 countries above, even though HK should also be classified as a high-income group.

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Figure 7 Death Rates of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in HK. Source: CHP (2019)
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Figure 8 Proportional Mortality % of Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer in HK. Source: CHP (2019)

The good news is that Hong Kong also share a decreasing trend of the age-standardized death rates of cancer and cardiovascular diseases (Figure 7). The death rate of cancer (malignant neoplasms) drops from 133.5 out of 100,000 in 2001 to 95.1 in 2018. The death rate of cardiovascular diseases also drops from 86.7 out of 100,000 in 2001 to about 50 in 2018 (combine the figures of diseases of the heart and cerebrovascular diseases). Both figures seem to be much lower than the above 6 countries.

More interestingly, cardiovascular diseases in HK only account for 19% of the total deaths in 2017 which is much lower than the above 6 countries, but cancer accounts for 35%, which is higher than the above 6 countries (Figure 8). Since they are using different terms, would the differences simply be the definition differences may require experts to explain.

Last but not least, even though the death rates of cardiovascular diseases and cancer seem to be lower or in line with the global norm, the number of people classified as patients of cardiovascular diseases and cancer are increasing fast.

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Figure 9 Number of Persons and Percentage of Patients of Chronic Diseases in HK. Source: CSD (2019)

According to the Census and Statistics Department’s Special Reports, Figure 9 shows the number and percentage of people with chronic diseases. It compares the snapshots in 2007 and 2013. There were 1,152,700 and 1,375,200 persons with chronic diseases, accounting for 16.7% and 19.2% of the total population. The increasing number of patients of chronic diseases may, on one hand, reflecting the situation of the aging population, and on the other hand the growing number of young patients. As they are the top killers, how to eliminate these chronic diseases would make a far-reaching impact on the happiness of people and a huge saving on the medical expenditure.

In recent years, there have been some breakthroughs and findings in the prevention and cures of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, together with obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. They are found to be linked together with insulin resistance. There have been more and more evidence and experiment results supporting the hypothesis. Hopefully, it would soon be able to eradicate these top killers and let people enjoy their lives until the natural limit. Let’s work together and share our knowledge.

[Thanks for Alex Leverty’s comments on Jul 7 ( https://medium.com/@alexlaverty/very-interesting-article-sounds-counter-intuitive-that-they-would-have-such-a-high-animal-product-4bd4b1e1bfa5), this article is a response to his insightful question.]

References

WHO (2014) report on Noncommunicable Diseases — Country Profiles 2014, World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/nmh/publications/ncd-profiles-2014/en/

CHP (2019) Age-standardized Death Rates by Leading Causes of Death — 2001–2018, Department of Health, HKSAR Government. https://www.chp.gov.hk/en/statistics/data/10/27/339.html

CSD (2015) Persons with Disabilities and Chronic Diseases in Hong Kong, Feature Article, Monthly Digest of Statistics, Jan 2015, Census and Statistics Department, HKSAR Government. https://www.statistics.gov.hk/pub/B71501FB2015XXXXB0100.pdf

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ecyY is the Founder of Real Estate Development and Building Research & Information Centre REDBRIC

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