After three decades of decline the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report (cdc.gov) that the number of deaths from heart disease has increased in recent years and continues to be the number one cause of death in the United States. The number of deaths from cancer has grown for decades, making these two diseases the leading cause of death in the nation. The federal report showed that heart disease deaths increased by 3 percent between 2011 and 2014, and that cancer deaths rose by 2.6 percent during this same time period.

The recent rise in deaths from both diseases caught the attention of the CDC. Statisticians at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics had thought cancer would outpace heart disease as the number one cause of death in recent years. “When I started working here 20 years ago,” said Robert Anderson, Ph.D. chief of the CDC’s mortality statistics branch and coauthor of the report, I never thought that we’d see a convergence like this.” He added, “as we’ve watched them get closer and closer together, we started to think, Gee we might see a crossover here.”

Anderson says the aging of the U.S. population is a leading factor in the number of cancer deaths.  He said that makes the decline in heart disease deaths during the last 20 years “all that more remarkable.”

The report showed that heart disease continues to be most prevalent in the South, while cancer is now the leading cause of death in 22 states, including Arizona, California, Maine and West Virginia.  In comparison, cancer was the number one cause of death in only two states in the year 2000 (Alaska and Minnesota).

The impact of cancer and heart disease differs by race and ethnicity. Heart disease remains the top killer of white and black Americans, while cancer is the leading cause of death for Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific Islanders. The researchers were surprised that cancer had become the top killer of the Asian and Pacific Island populations. A separate CDC report issued last December confirmed the findings of this study, and reported that there were 167 deaths per 100,000 Americans for heart disease, followed closely by 161.2 cancer deaths per 100,000 Americans in 2014.

“Heart disease deaths are still increasing, but the number of cancer deaths is increasing at a greater pace.  This is worrisome because it means Americans are dealing with greater health burdens overall,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, past president of the American Heart Association.

Source: American Heart Association News (news.heart.org)

Source: Centers for Disease Control, “Changes in the Leading Cause of Death: Recent Patterns in Heart Disease and Cancer Mortality,” NCHS Data Brief No. 254, August 2016, by Melanie Heron, Ph.D. and Robert N. Anderson, Ph.D.

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