Heart disease has long been number one killer in the United States. However, a new study this week is the latest and suggests that it is only a matter of time before the second leading cause of death – cancer – becomes usually fatal to an average person.
On the great side, this is largely due to the fact that we have become better at preventing cardiac deaths and longer lives, not because cancer death is growing.
Researchers, who have been scanning deaths across the United States from 2003 to 2015 through the Stanford University Medical Center, At county level, they realized the leading cause of death for each year. In 2003, they found that heart disease was the leading cause of 79 per cent of counties, but by 2015 this was only the leading cause in 59 per cent of the county.
Cancer in the meantime was the leading cause of death in only 21 per cent of the county in 2003, but by 2015 this number was as high as 41 per cent of the county.
"We are just at the top of the transition from heart disease to cancer as the leading cause of death," said Latha Palaniappan, chief author for CNN.
The team's findings, published on Monday in Anali's Internal Medicine, are not particularly surprising.
Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency responsible for publishing annual mortality data, have themselves predicted that the cancer will transmit heart disease as the leading cause of death by 2020 (2016, the latest year for which public information exists, either there are 635,260 reported deaths from heart disease and 598,038 cancer deaths).
This transition has greatly inspired a particularly profound decline in mortality from heart disease in relation to other diseases. The 2016 study in JAMA, for example, showed that the mortality rate of all causes at the national level fell by 44 percent from 1969 to 2013, but 68 percent for heart disease in particular. In the same time period, the cancer mortality rate dropped by 18%.
The same pattern was seen in the current study. After adjusting age and gender, the mortality rate of heart disease fell by 28 percent over a 12-year period, while the cancer mortality rate fell by 16 percent.
But looking at district-level deaths, Palaniappan and her team could see that these good news is not universal. As with so many things related to health, wealth plays an extremely important role. In countries where people reported low median income, the mortality rate both from heart disease and cancer has dropped significantly less than in high income countries. Heart disease is also much more likely to remain the leading cause of death in these low-income counties.
There are several reasons for this gap. Crude people are more likely to smoke (and are less likely to quit), one, which is a major risk factor for both heart disease and cancer. Low-income victims may have poor preventive and medical care, which makes it difficult for people to stay healthy or to cure acute heart problems.
Cancer, meanwhile, will become increasingly common to the elderly, so the fact that people from high income countries are more often resting with it is, strange, a sign that they live longer.
Dying, of course, is a zero sum game. The less we die from one thing, the more we will finish something else. But emphasizing these socio-economic differences, the team hopes to pay more attention so that everyone has the opportunity to live a longer and healthier life, regardless of their circumstances.
"We have to work harder in low-income areas in the United States to see the same improvements in mortality," Palaniappan told CNN. "We need to focus more on heart disease and cancer prevention and treatment in African-American populations in particular."[Annals of Internal Medicine via CNN]