Last year, cancer was the most common cause of death for men and women in the UK, replacing circulatory diseases including heart disease and stroke, which were the nation’s most common cause of death until 2010, say government figures.

The three main broad disease groups – circulatory diseases, cancers and respiratory diseases – accounted for 71% of all UK deaths in 2013, down from 1983 when they represented 87% of all deaths, according to the latest mortality statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Cancers accounted for 353 deaths per 100,000 population of the UK in 2013 for men, and 243 deaths per 100,000 for women. The age-standardised mortality rates (ASMRs) for cancers in the UK declined gradually over the 30 years from 1983 to 2013, with a slightly larger (24%) decline in the ASMR for men than for women (13%).

Over the 30-year period, there have been steady declines in the ASMRs for the main three board causes of death in the UK, says the ONS report. The reasons for this include improvements in the treatment and diagnosis of cancers and of circulatory and respiratory diseases, and the introduction of preventative programmes such as the NHS breast screening programme which was introduced in 1988, it adds.

However, Macmillan Cancer Support says the latest figures illustrate the need to confront the “frightening reality” of cancer mortality in the UK, from which mortality rates are falling much more slowly than from circulatory diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

“By the end of 2018, a thousand people a day will be diagnosed with cancer, but in the UK the chances of surviving the disease are among the worst in Europe – this is completely unacceptable,” said Ellie Rose, public affairs manager at the charity.

‘We can and we must see more efforts to save more lives. Ahead of the next general election, Macmillan Cancer Support is calling on all political parties to make cancer a top priority and commit to improving survival rates so they match the best in Europe,” said Ms Rose.