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More die of cancer than heart disease

March 7, 2012
By


By Misti Crane The Columbus Dispatch Sunday March 4, 2012 10:29 AM

During American Heart Month in February, most people probably heard the oft-cited fact that
heart disease is the top killer of men and women.

Not so quick. In Franklin County, cancer has surpassed heart disease.

The difference between the two is small but notable, given heart disease’s long-standing
position in the top spot. Doctors are finding and treating heart disease sooner and more
effectively, driving the decrease.

Cancer deaths also have declined, but not as significantly, highlighting the challenges in
driving down death rates, especially for lung cancer, which kills more people than any other
cancer.

In Ohio and nationwide, heart disease remains the top killer. But as more people are treated
earlier and more effectively and live to die of something else, some experts predict the shift in
Franklin County will be seen elsewhere.

From 2007 through 2009 — the most-recent years for which data is available — the average number
of cancer deaths was 1,905 compared with 1,858 heart deaths. Columbus Public Health keeps the data
in three-year chunks and looks for averages over that time to determine the rankings.

In 2009, the death rate per 100,000 people was 195 for cancer and 189 for heart disease.

The news didn’t surprise Dr. Laxmi Mehta, president of the board of directors for the American
Heart Association in Columbus and clinical director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic at
Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

“I think it really shows how much we’ve progressed in the treatment of heart disease,” she said.
“It’s good news.

“The problem is, that doesn’t mean we are reducing the number of people developing
cardiovascular disease or having risk factors. The key is prevention,” Mehta said.

“The fact that we have had this trend in (Franklin County) speaks to the excellent medical care
that we are able to provide,” said Dr. David Nicholson, a cardiologist at Grant Medical Center and
Grady Memorial Hospital.

But keeping the numbers low will remain a challenge, especially considering the
childhood-obesity epidemic, he said.

“I think we got to the crossover point probably a little faster than what’s happening on the
national level,” said Dr. Teresa Long, Columbus health commissioner.

It’s hard to understand why, but smoking rates remain high here, and that might be a
contributing factor, she said.

“It’s really important for people to understand that health is more than health care,” Long
said.

The flip doesn’t make it more or less important to focus on improving prevention and care of
both diseases, she said, pointing out that they remain close.

“You can’t get into the battle between what’s more important, cancer or heart disease. Focusing
on both lets us live longer, happier and more productive lives,” said Dr. Peter Shields, deputy
director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Shields said he’s glad that the cancer death rate is dropping as well. “But it’s a really tough
disease to treat. We can’t put new plumbing in.”

Treatment of many cancers, including breast, has improved vastly in the past few decades,
leading to higher survival rates.

Progress for treating other cancers, including lung and pancreas, hasn’t been as profound. While
newer medications can keep people alive longer, there hasn’t been significant improvement in
finding the disease early enough for a cure, Shields said.

“Lung cancer just dwarfs everything,” he said.

From 2007 to 2009, an average of 261 women and 302 men died of the disease in Franklin
County.

If better screening for cancer comes along, the death rates will dip more significantly, said
Dr. Jeanna Knoble, an oncologist who practices at the Zangmeister Cancer Center and at Mount Carmel
West hospital.

Some new research has shown that lung cancer screening might be helpful in some cases, she said,
and much work is being done to find better ways to find it and other cancers earlier.

Another obstacle to higher survival rates is a lack of good health insurance or any insurance at
all among Americans, Knoble said.

mcrane@dispatch.com

Article source: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2012/03/04/more-die-of-cancer-than-heart-disease.html

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