Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the UKs number one killer, new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.Almost a third of people now die of one kind of cancer or another, according to mortality statistics for 2011.
The figures show that cancer was recorded as the underlying cause of death in 143,181 people in 2011, or 29.6 per cent of total deaths in England and Wales.
Cardiovascular disease was recorded as the underlying cause in 139,706 people, or 28.8 per cent of deaths.
This is a turnaround in position from 2010, when 32.0 per cent died of cardiovascular diseases and 28.7 per cent died of cancer.
These figures llustrate that switch is due principally to the drop in deaths from heart disease and stroke, rather than the rise in cancer.
In particular people are now far less likely to die of heart attacks than they were 10 years ago, thanks primarily to better emergency care but also to healthier lifestyles.
Death rates from heart attacks have halved in a decade, an Oxford University study published in January showed.
The decline has been steepest among those suffering heart attacks in middle age- with more people surviving to old age, more are living to develop various types of cancer.
Although cancer has become the number one cause of death, survival rates for almost all cancers are improving and have been improving for years, due to better diagnosis and treatment.
However, ministers admit British survival rates are not as good as the best-performing European countries.
They estimate another 5,000 lives a year could be saved if rates were brought into line with the likes of Sweden and Germany.