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Dying from cancer or other chronic diseases in the Netherlands: ten-year trends derived from death certificate data

Lud FJ van der Velden1*, Anneke L Francke1, Lammert Hingstman1 and Dick L Willems2

Author Affiliations

1 NIVEL, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, Otterstraat 118-124, 3513 CR Utrecht, the Netherlands

2 Department of general practice, AMC/UvA, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, the Netherlands

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BMC Palliative Care 2009, 8:4  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-8-4

Published: 4 February 2009



For the further development of palliative care, it is relevant to gain insight into trends in non-acute mortality. The aim of this article is twofold: (a) to provide insight into ten-year trends in the characteristics of patients who died from cancer or other chronic diseases in the Netherlands; (b) to show how national death statistics, derived from physicians' death certificates, can be used in this type of investigations.


Secondary analysis of data from 1996 to 2006 on the "primary" or "underlying" cause of death from official death certificates filled out by physicians and additional data from 2003 to 2006 on the place of death from these certificates.


Of the 135,000 people who died in the Netherlands in 2006, 77,000 (or 57%) died from a chronic disease. Cancer was the most frequent cause of death (40,000). Stroke accounted for 10,000 deaths, dementia for 8,000 deaths and COPD and heart failure each accounted for 6,000 deaths. Compared to 1996, the number of people who died from chronic diseases has risen by 6%.

Of all non-acute deaths, almost three quarters were at least 70 years old when they died. Almost one third of the people died at home (31%), 28% in a hospital, 25% in a nursing home and 16% somewhere else.


Further investments to facilitate dying at home are desirable. Death certificate data proved to be useful to describe and monitor trends in non-acute deaths. Advantages of the use of death certificate data concern the reliability of the data, the opportunities for selection on the basis of the ICD-10, and the availability and low cost price of the data.