Cancer and heart disease in virtual tie for number of deaths in US

Last month, I learned that cancer (of all types) is in a virtual tie with heart disease as cause of death in the United States. I was stunned.

heart disease v cancer
Number of deaths due to heart disease and cancer: United States, 1950–2014, CDC.

In 1958, heart disease killed about 2.5 times as many Americans as cancer.  In 2014, cancer was the leading cause of death in 22 states:

cancer leading cause of death
Leading cause of death for each state: United States, 2000 and 2014


The reasons are complex and include advances in medical understanding and technology regarding the cardiovascular system combined with living longer.

At the same time, despite billions being invested in cancer research and mapping the genome, we have made practically zero progress on cancer.

In 1971,  President Richard Nixon and Congress declared war on cancer, “vowing that the disease would be cured within five years.” Since then, we have spent $105 billion on research through the National Cancer Institute. Other organizations have spent untold billions more. And yet age-adjusted death rates are flat; conversely, deaths from heart disease have declined more than 60%.

This chart from the CDC shows age-adjusted death rates by cause since 1958: cancer is almost a flat line.

Age-adjusted deaths
Age-adjusted death rates for selected leading causes of death: United States, 1958–2010, CDC

From 2009 to 2010, the age-adjusted death rate for heart disease, decreased 2.0%, whereas the age-adjusted death rate for cancer decreased only 0.4%. These two diseases account for about half of all deaths in the US.



Read the series

Leave a Reply