New study says cancer may soon overtake heart disease as nation’s top killer

While overall deaths due to heart disease and cancer are both decreasing, heart disease deaths are dropping at a much faster rate in many areas.

A new study shows cancer is on its way to becoming the leading cause of death in more counties nationwide.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed records for 32 million people in the U.S. who died between 2003 and 2015. It found that while overall deaths due to heart disease and cancer are both decreasing, heart disease deaths are dropping at a much faster rate in many areas.

During the time frame studied, the number of deaths related to heart disease fell 28 percent. In contrast, cancer deaths dropped 16 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that cancer will replace heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States within two years.

Low income areas take bigger hits now, but shift seen ahead

According to this study heart disease is becoming better managed, especially by those who live in wealthier areas with better access to fresh foods and health care. While total overall deaths decreased about 12 percent during the 13 years analyzed, lower income areas continued to see greater disparity in deaths from both heart disease and cancer.

In higher-income counties, heart disease deaths fell 30 percent versus only 22 percent in lower-income counties. For cancer deaths, the drop in higher-income counties was 18 percent versus 11 percent in lower income areas.

As early as 2020, a shift is expected. The study predicts cancer will overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death for those in our nation who live in areas with higher incomes. The data suggest the change from heart disease to cancer as a leading cause of death will take longer in poorer areas.

Norton Cancer Institute

Norton Cancer Institute offers seven outpatient locations, three radiation centers and multiple infusion centers across Louisville and Southern Indiana. Same-day appointments are available for new patients.

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Lowering your cancer risks

“For me, one takeaway moving forward is making sure the tremendous improvements we’re making in cancer care are available to all who need them,” said Joseph M. Flynn, D.O., MPH, FACP, chief administrative officer, Norton Medical Group, and physician-in-chief, Norton Cancer Institute. “This is an exciting era of new research, advanced technologies and personalized targeted therapies that hold the promise of moving cancer from a killer to a treatable chronic illness, so the question becomes, ‘How can everyone share in that promise?’”

Steps you can take to help lessen your risks:

  • Adopt lifestyle practices, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis. These help lower risks for both cancer and heart disease.
  • Take advantage of all available cancer screenings. Screenings are widely available for breast, colon and lung cancer. Talk with your primary care provider about your specific risks and family history to identify any screenings you may need.
  • Pay attention to research and new information. Identify credible sources that can help you stay up to date with what’s happening in the rapidly advancing sciences around cancer and heart care.

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