Despite cancer treatments being more effective than ever, statistics from the Health Ministry indicate that more Danes died of cancer in 2010 than in the previous ten years.
Three out of ten deaths in Denmark, or 15,799 deaths in 2010, can be attributed to cancer, which has become the leading cause of death amongst Danes.
"The reason that more people are dying from cancer is due to a significant rise in new cancer patients, and a number of the stricken people dying from it,” Hans Henrik Storm, a doctor from the cancer society Kræftens Bekæmpelse, told Politiken newspaper. “When the statistics are adjusted for population make-up, since there are more elderly and thus more cancer cases, then we actually see a small decline.”
Cancer treatment has never been as effective in Denmark as it is now, and considerable efforts to improve treatment quality have been a success. But because doctors have become better at catching cancer early, combined with a rising life expectancy, more cancer cases than before are being diagnosed.
The Danish lifestyle also contributes to the dilemma through a prevalence of bad habits in terms of diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking and sun bathing, all of which promote cancer.
About 235,000 Danes are currently living with a cancer diagnosis. In 2010 there were 35,563 new cases, a small drop from the previous year, but over ten percent more than in the year 2000. The number of cancer-related deaths increased slightly from 2009 to 2010, but since the year 2000 the number has risen by about 2 percent.
“The number of Danes that survive cancer is reasonably constant, but at the same time there are more that unfortunately get the illness,” Morten Høyer, a professor and cancer researcher at Aarhus University Hospital, told Politiken. “But in fact a greater number survive cancer today because our treatment is much better. Especially the combination of effective surgery, radiation treatment and chemotherapy has led to this success.”
Despite the treatment improvement, cancer mortality in Denmark continues to be higher than the other Nordic countries.
But one of the bright spots is in the treatment of children. Cancer cells in children are particularly sensitive to treatment and the more effective methods have dramatically increased the survival rate.
In the 1960s, only about 30 percent of Danish children diagnosed with cancer were still alive five years later. That number has risen to nearly 90 percent today.