Cancer is now the leading cause of death in wealthy countries, while cardiovascular disease is still the biggest killer in poorer nations, according to a new study.
For more than a century, cardiovascular disease has been the world’s leading killer, but as public health improves in well-off countries, cancer is beginning to overtake it.
A study examining 160,000 people across 21 countries found deaths from cancer in wealthy countries have become twice as frequent as those from cardiovascular disease.
The researchers said it was ‘probable’ that cancer would one day become the world’s biggest killer as other nations struggle to reduce heart disease.
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 disease.
“Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26% 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.
“Of an estimated 55 million deaths in the world in 2017,” the researchers said, “around 17•7 million were due to cardiovascular disease – a group of conditions that includes heart failure, angina, heart attack, and stroke.”
Approximately 70% 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 high-income countries, common treatment with cholesterol-lowering statins and blood-pressure medicines have helped bring rates of heart disease down dramatically in the past few decades.
Dagenais’ team said their results indicate that the higher rates of heart-disease deaths in low-income countries may be mainly due to a lower quality of healthcare.
The research found first hospitalization rates and heart disease medication use were both substantially lower in poorer and middle-income countries than in wealthy ones.
It was part of the Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiologic (PURE) study, published in The Lancet and presented at the ESC Congress in Paris.
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.