Cancer eclipses heart disease as the leading killer in wealthy countries

Regular use of cholesterol and blood pressure medications a factor

Cancer has become the leading cause of death in wealthy countries and could become the biggest killer in the rest of the world within a few decades.

Research has found cancer taking twice as many lives as heart disease in high-income countries.

“Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26 per cent 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.”

– Gilles Dagenais, a professor at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada who co-led the research

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.

Regular use of cholesterol and blood pressure medications – which are not as readily available in poorer countries – is helping to reduce the number of deaths from heart-related illnesses.

As the population grows and ages, more people can expect to survive heart attacks and strokes, and the number of people living with the debilitating after-effects of the two conditions will continue to rise, said Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation.

Seventy 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.