How to avoid the soon-to-be number one killer

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Heart disease rates drop in the last decade may mean cancer becomes biggest killer in the United States.

January 07, 2019
/ Loma Linda, California, United States
/ Mark E. Reeves, director of the Loma Linda University Cancer Center.


Woman with tumor

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[Photo Credit: Getty Images]

The death rate from heart disease has been dropping for the past few decades, and it will soon be overtaken by the malady that’s now the second-biggest killer in the United States: cancer.

While I’m grateful for the medical community’s cancer treatment innovations, increased prevention measures and improved screenings, make no mistake — cancer is still a huge problem in our society. It causes approximately 600,000 deaths each year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

We’ve seen a 25 percent reduction in the cancer death rate since 1991, but death rates from heart disease have been dropping even faster. U.S. health officials estimate that cancer will kill more people annually than anything else starting around 2020. 

There are many reasons for reduced death rates of heart disease over the years. There have been enormous improvements in heart care — things like coronary artery catheterization and the inventions that go along with them such as stents and increased successful heart surgeries. There have also been some huge changes with new drugs that affect cholesterol metabolism. And of course, lifestyle changes have had a huge impact.

Cancer treatment, too, has also improved significantly — just not as fast as heart disease treatments.

Multi-modal therapy was a complete game-changer, and it started to become a typical approach to treating cancer around 20 years ago. This is a team approach of fighting a patient’s cancer with a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Cancer centers have done well at providing this type of treatment, with patients receiving advanced, coordinated care that they wouldn’t have otherwise received at isolated medical oncology practices. 

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