Cancer Surpasses CVD as Leading Cause of Death in 22 States

Zosia Chustecka

August 24, 2016

For decades, cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been the leading cause of death in the United States, and it still is ― but the latest data show that cancer is catching up fast.

The latest figures, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are for 2014 and show that cancer has surpassed CVD as the leading cause of death in 22 of the 51 states that make up America.

The 22 states in which cancer was the leading cause of death in 2014 were Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Virginia.

In 2000, this was the case in only two states, Alaska and Minnesota.

In addition, the 2014 data show that cancer is now the leading cause of death for the non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic populations. CVD remains the leading cause of death in non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black populations.

This news comes a week after figures released by the World Health Organization showed that cancer has overtaken CVD as the leading cause of death in 12 European countries.

The European report noted that dramatic falls in CVD mortality rates during the past 10 years have been seen across the entire continent. The consequence of the decreases in CVD mortality was that more men died of cancer than of CVD in 12 countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and the United Kingdoms). More women died of cancer than of CVD in two countries.

A similar trend has been seen in the United States, comment Melonie Heron, PhD, and Robert N. Anderson, PhD, from the National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics, in a CDC briefing document.

Although heart disease has for decades been the leading cause of death, in the 1980s, the number of deaths due to heart disease began to decline. At the same time, the number of deaths due to cancer increased, with the result being "a substantial decrease in the gap between the two causes." It looked as if there would be a leading-cause crossover in the early 2010s, but a reversal in the trend in heart disease deaths in 2012 "has kept heart disease just ahead of cancer in the rankings," they comment.

Until now: the 2014 figures show that the crossover is now happening.

"Although a change in the rankings has not occurred for the United States as a whole, the rankings have changed for many states," the researchers comment.

In the United States, the number of deaths due to heart disease has consistently been higher than the number of deaths due to cancer, a point illustrated clearly in the graphic below.

The gap between the number of heart disease deaths and cancer deaths generally widened from 1950 through 1968, narrowed from 1968 through 2012, and then slightly widened again from 2012 through 2014, the CDC researchers comment.

"The number of deaths due to both heart disease and cancer has increased since 1950, largely due to the aging of the US population," they add.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.