Cancer surpasses heart disease as cause of death among Hispanics

Cancer is now the leading cause of death among Hispanics in the United States, surpassing deaths due to heart disease, researchers reported Monday. The development is expected to eventually be seen in society overall.

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death among Hispanics for decades, but because heart disease deaths have been falling more quickly than cancer deaths among Hispanics, experts had expected cancer deaths to ultimately outpace heart disease deaths, said Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, in a telephone interview Monday.

Cancer became the leading cause of death among Asian Americans in about 2000, Siegel said. She’s the lead author of the study about the latest development, published in the September/October issue of the society’s publication: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The rest of the country is expected to follow the pattern in the next decade or so, she said.


“In the population overall, the number of deaths from cancer will overcome those from heart disease,” she said. The finding is predictive of the general population, she said, adding that the country’s Hispanic population is younger than the overall population, so the crossover has taken place sooner.

According to federal data, 29,935 U.S. Hispanics died of cancer in 2009, slightly more than the 29,611 who died of heart disease. It was the first year in which cancer deaths had surpassed heart disease in that group. In 2012, researchers estimate that 112,800 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 33,200 cancer deaths will occur among Hispanics.

As researchers point out, most heart disease deaths occur in people 65 and older, but the majority of Hispanics in the United States are younger than 55; so when someone dies, it is more likely to be due to cancer than heart disease. Further, major advances in heart-disease treatments, such as drugs, have prolonged the life of many people with that condition.

The current report uses data from the National Cancer Institute, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North American Assn. of Central Cancer Registries and the National Center for Health Statistics.


Among the 10 years of available data, 2000 to 2009, the researchers found that Hispanics have “lower incidence and death rates than non-Hispanic whites for all cancers combined and for the four most common cancers (breast, prostate, lung and bronchus, and colorectum).

“However, Hispanics have higher incidence and mortality rates for cancers of the stomach, liver, uterine cervix, and gallbladder, reflecting greater exposure to cancer-causing infectious agents, lower rates of screening for cervical cancer, differences in lifestyle and dietary patterns, and possibly genetic factors.”


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