Cancer surpasses heart disease as leading cause of death in high-income countries

Globally, cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death for middle-aged adults, but a study published Sept. 3 in The Lancet found that cancer-related deaths are now more common in some high-income and middle-income countries.

 The study analyzed causes of death among 162,534 adults across five continents. The data came from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology study and spanned from 2005-16. Countries were divided into three categories: low-income, middle-income and high-income.

Researchers found a higher incidence of death from cancer than cardiovascular disease in high-income countries and some upper middle-income countries. In high-income countries, death from cancer was twice as likely than from cardiovascular disease, while low-income countries reported three times more deaths from cardiovascular disease than cancer.

Researchers suggest this may be due to improved prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease in high-income countries, whereas these efforts have not caused significant reductions in cancer rates.

The data may not be representative of all countries within those categories, but is an "important opportunity, both in our country and worldwide, to understand the factors that have led to the steep decline in heart disease in high-income populations," lead author Latha Palaniappan, MD, professor of medicine at Stanford (Calif.) University Medical Center, told CNN. "Our challenge going forward is to evenly apply these benefits to less advantaged populations."

Though the United States was not included in the study, separate research published in Annals of Internal Medicine last year reports similar findings: nationwide, heart disease was more likely to be the leading cause of death in low-income counties, while cancer was the leading cause of death in many high-income counties.

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