Cancer overtakes heart disease as top killer in some countries

In the U.S., heart disease has been the reigning top cause of death for a number of years, but cancer is quickly becoming the top killer in some high-income and upper-middle-income countries, according to a new study published in The Lancet.

Cancer was the top cause of death in Sweden, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Poland and Turkey. In the U.S., cancer death rates have recently dropped.

The same conclusion was reached in another study from 2018 published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. And the CDC also projected that cancer would overtake other causes as the main killer in the U.S. by 2020.

The study, known as the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, looked at a population-based cohort of those between 35 and 70 years from 21 countries across five continents. In total, there were 162,534 participants enrolled in the first two phases. The researchers looked at the key outcomes of the incidence of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease, cancers, injuries, respiratory diseases and hospital admissions.

The findings indicate a shift in the predominant causes of death among middle-aged people. In fact, cancer in HICs causes twice as many deaths as cardiovascular disease, according to an accompanying chart.

“This epidemiological transition might be due to improved prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease in HICs, whereas successful strategies (other than tobacco control) to prevent and treat cancers are yet to lead to large reductions in most cancers,” wrote first author Gilles R. Dagenais, MD, of the Department of Cardiology, Institut Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie de Québec, Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, and colleagues.

Across all countries in the study, cardiovascular disease was the top cause of death (40%), but was only responsible for 23% of deaths in HICs. This was also with more risk factors for cardiovascular disease in HICs and fewer in LICs, researchers noted.

The finding comes at a time when heart disease is rising in underdeveloped regions, another study found.

Another study published in The Lancet found that most heart diseases cases and deaths are from a few common, modifiable risk factors.

“However, for common cancers such as breast, prostate, or bowel cancer, few modifiable risk factors have been identified that have a large effect on cancer risk,” Dagenais et al. wrote.