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League table shows Denmark has world's highest cancer rates

Denmark is the world’s cancer capital, according to a league table that has also revealed that the UK has the 22nd highest cancer rates in the world.

The table, compiled by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) from World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, suggest that every year about 326 people out of every 100,000 in Denmark develop cancer.

It is thought that part of the reason for Denmark having the highest rates may be because it has a good record of diagnosing the disease. But there are also high rates of smoking among Danish women and it also has high levels of alcohol consumption, which is another cancer risk factor.

The figures, which are age standardised, show the rate in the UK is about 267 per 100,000, with the UK being ranked 33rd in the world for cancers in men and 12th for cancers in women. And for breast cancer, which is particularly linked to excess body fat and alcohol consumption, the UK is ranked 11th.

The league table shows that high-income countries generally have significantly higher cancer rates than lower income ones. For example, the only non-European countries in the top 20 are Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, Israel, French Polynesia and Uruguay.

This is likely to be partly because high-income countries are better at diagnosing and recording new cases of cancer. But a large part of the reason is also that high-income countries tend to have higher levels of obesity and alcohol consumption, and lower levels of physical activity.

Professor Martin Wiseman, Medical and Scientific Adviser for WCRF, said: “We know that people in high-income countries are more likely to be overweight, to drink a lot of alcohol and to be inactive.

“There is strong scientific evidence that these factors increase risk of several common cancers and these figures show the effect of this. When you look at the list, it is clear that the countries that do worse for these factors tend to be nearer the top.

“The high incidence rates in the UK, Denmark and other high-income countries are not inevitable and lifestyle changes can make a real difference to people’s risk. In fact, scientists estimate that about a third of the most common cancers in the UK and other high-income countries could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, being more physically active and eating more healthily.

“Of course, not smoking will have an important effect beyond that, as will avoiding sunburn. So when you put all these factors together it is clear that many cases are being diagnosed every year that could have been prevented.

“But the bad news is that around the world, things are heading in the wrong direction. The general trend is for people to become more overweight, eat more high-energy foods and become less active.

“This is why we need to raise awareness about what people can do to reduce their cancer risk and as a society we need to make the kind of changes that make it easier for people to make these healthy choices.”

Age-standardised incidence rates for cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) in 2008

The tables show the countries with the top ten cancer rates – how many people in every 100,000 develop cancer every year – in four different categories.

Overall cancer rates

  1. Denmark (326.1)
  2. Ireland (317)
  3. Australia (314.1)
  4. New Zealand (309.2)
  5. Belgium (306.8)
  6. France (Metropolitan) (300.4)
  7. USA (300.2)
  8. Norway (299.1)
  9. Canada (296.6)
  10. Czech Republic (295)

Cancer in men

  1. France (Metropolitan) (360.6)
  2. Australia (360.5)
  3. Ireland (355.9)
  4. Uruguay (354.4)
  5. Hungary (352.3)
  6. Belgium (351.3)
  7. Czech Republic (348.8)
  8. Norway (338.4)
  9. New Zealand (337.6)
  10. USA (335)

Cancer in women

  1. Denmark (325.3)
  2. New Zealand (287.1)
  3. Ireland (285.1)
  4. Israel (280.4)
  5. The Netherlands (276.5)
  6. Belgium (275.7)
  7. Canada (275)
  8. Australia (274.4)
  9. USA (274.4)
  10. Norway (270.3)

Breast cancer (women)

  1. Belgium (109.2)
  2. Denmark (101.1)
  3. France (Metropolitan) (99.7)
  4. The Netherlands (98.5)
  5. Israel (96.8)
  6. Iceland (95.5)
  7. Ireland (93.9)
  8. Uruguay (90.7)
  9. Switzerland (89.4)
  10. New Zealand (89.4)


  1. League table shows Denmark has world's highest cancer rates (World Cancer Research Fund UK, 24 January 2011)
  2. Jo Carlowe (2011). Rich countries dominate cancer league table BMJ DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d537

Keywords: cancer incidence, World Health Organization, World Cancer Research Fund

24. 1. 2011 World Cancer Research Fund Press Release