Cardiovascular disease represented 34 percent of all deaths in 2017, according to fresh statistics by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen). That makes it the leading killer, although the number of such deaths per 100,000 residents has dropped by almost 60 percent since 1987.
The sharp decrease is above all linked to a decrease in heart attacks. A common misconception is that it has to do with improved treatment – but a major reason is also that not as many people have heart attacks any more. Although more people do survive heart attacks today, fewer people experience them.
“Part of it has to do with smoking – that it has been on a steady decrease in the past 50 years. But it is also believed that it has to do with better diets. And the primary care sector has also got better at working preemptively and keeping an eye on high-risk groups,” said Karolinska Institute researcher Anton Lager.
Almost 4,800 people died of acute heart attacks last year, according to the statistics.
The second most common cause of death is cancer. Tumours caused almost 24,000 deaths last year in Sweden, or in other words almost 26 percent of the total number of deaths, with tumours in the gastrointestinal tract being the most common. But unlike heart diseases – where the majority of cases can be explained by people's habits and thus prevented – cancer remains a mystery.
“We know that if we control blood pressure, blood sugar, blood fats, eating habits and physical activities, we can prevent cardiovascular disease. But when it comes to cancer, we're going to need some kind of breakthrough,” said Lager.
The exception is lung cancer, which killed around 3,800 people in Sweden last year. While lung cancer deaths have decreased by 30 percent in men since 1987, they have increased by almost 90 percent in women in the same period. There is a clear explanation for this: people's smoking habits.
“This is because women started and stopped smoking later than men. Lung cancer has a long latency period, and most of it can be explained by tobacco smoke. To a large extent it can also interact with toxins in the environment, such as asbestos,” said Lager.
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