Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in wealthy countries and could become the world’s biggest killer within just a few decades if current trends persist, researchers said yesterday.
Publishing the findings of two large studies in The Lancet medical journal, the scientists said they showed evidence of a new global “epidemiologic transition” between different types of chronic diseases.
While cardiovascular disease remains, for now, the leading cause of mortality worldwide among middle-aged adults — accounting for 40 percent of all deaths — that is no longer the case in high-income countries, where cancer now kills twice as many people as heart disease, the findings showed.
“Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26 percent of all deaths. But as [heart disease] rates continue to fall, cancer could likely become the leading cause of death worldwide, within just a few decades,” said Gilles Dagenais, a professor at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada who co-led the work.
The researchers said that of an estimated 55 million deaths in the world in 2017, about 17·7 million were due to cardiovascular disease — a group of conditions that includes heart failure, angina, heart attack and stroke.
About 70 percent of all cardiovascular cases and deaths are due to modifiable risks, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diet, smoking and other lifestyle factors.
In rich nations,, common treatment with cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-pressure medicines have helped bring rates of heart disease down dramatically in the past few decades.
The findings suggest that the higher rates of heart-disease deaths in low-income countries might be mainly due to a lower quality of healthcare.
First hospitalization rates and heart disease medication use were both substantially lower in poorer and middle-income countries, the study showed.
Countries analyzed included Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe.
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