Cancer Surpassing Heart Disease as Leading Cause of U.S. Deaths

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the United States is undergoing an epidemiologic transition in the leading cause of death: from heart disease to cancer. 

For this observational study, researchers assessed 32 million U.S. death records across 3,143 American counties from 2003 to 2015, analyzing demographic data, income, race, and more. 

Heart disease was the leading cause of death in 79% of counties in 2003 but decreased to 59% by 2015. Meanwhile, cancer was the leading cause of death in 21% of counties in 2003 but jumped to 41% by 2015. The shift to cancer as the leading cause of death was greatest in highest-income counties. 

Overall, heart disease mortality rates decreased by 28% from 2003 to 2015, specifically by 30% in high-income counties and 22% in low-income counties. Cancer mortality rates decreased by 16%, specifically by 18% in high-income counties and 11% in low-income counties. In the lowest-income counties, heart disease remained the leading cause of death among all racial and ethnic groups. 

The researchers said that lower-income areas may see a slower shift in the cause of death due to socioeconomic, geographic, demographic, and other health-related factors. 

Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and whites experienced this uptick in cancer deaths and decline in heart disease deaths; however, this pattern was not observed among American Indians/Alaska Natives or blacks. 

The global community is failing to meet goals to reduce mortality rates for cancer and other diseases. 

Lung cancer deaths for women are projected to increase worldwide. 

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine