Questions for Sally Curtin, M.A., Statistician, and Lead Author of “Trends in Cancer and Heart Disease Death Rates Among Adults Aged 45–64: United States, 1999–2017.”
Q: Why are death rates from cancer dropping steadily over time and why are death rates from heart disease starting to rise?
SC: The death rates are a reflection of a few things—the prevalence of a disease, how often is occurs in the population, as well as its treatment and survival. As this is purely a statistical analysis, others can speak to the trends in these factors.
Q: You write that cancer treatments might contribute to subsequent heart disease for patients and might help explain the increase in heart disease mortality. Which cancer treatments are contributing to this subsequent heart disease among cancer patients?
SC: The cardiotoxicity of cancer treatments is just one way that these two seemingly disparate diseases are related. It is well known in the medical community that radiation and many chemotherapies can increase the risk of subsequent heart disease. In our analysis, we didn’t examine which treatments might be contributing to heart disease risk.
Q: Which groups are seeing the biggest decline in cancer death rates?
SC: Non-hispanic black men, who have the highest cancer death rates, also had the largest percentage decline over the period at 34%. In general, the percentage declines were greater for men than for women.
Q: Which groups are seeing the biggest increase in heart disease death rates?
SC: Non-hispanic white women had a 12% increase since 2009 in heart disease death rates, the greatest of all groups. In total, middle-aged women had a 7% recent increase compared with 3% for middle-aged men. Another interesting finding is that Hispanic women, who had the lowest heart disease death rates of all groups, had a 37% decline over the period, the only group to experience a decline over the entire period.
Q: Does this analysis suggest that cancer will not overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S., which many have been predicting?
SC: The focus of this report was on the middle-age population, and Cancer is the leading cause of death in the 45-64 year old population as shown in this report, whereas heart disease remains the leading cause in the total population. While we do not make predictions about what data trends will look like in the future, it is safe to say that if the recent upturn in heart disease continues, it is unlikely that this switch will occur anytime soon.