F or the first time ever, heart disease has been surpassed by cancer as the top killer of Americans under the age of 85, according to reports from the American Cancer Society.
Even so, the mortality rates for both diseases are decreasing.
“There is a tremendous amount of ways to prevent heart disease, lower blood pressure, cholesterol,” said Steven Oppenheimer, director of the Center for Cancer and Developmental Biology at CSUN. “(Different) ways to prevent heart attacks have improved.”
Exercising on a regular basis, eating healthy, and avoiding smoking are all things people can do to prevent heart disease, but cancer is a more difficult illness to prevent, Oppenheimer said.
Problems like high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are factors that lead to heart disease, can be rectified by lifestyle changes and the use of medications.
While there are ways to fight both diseases, the biggest problem in the fight against cancer is people not detecting the illness early enough, Oppenheimer said.
With early detection, most illnesses can be eliminated by medications or surgical procedures.
“Early cancer is usually not a big problem, because it can be removed,” Oppenheimer said.
But once it spreads to other parts of the body, curing the disease is much more difficult.
And it is the spread of cancer that is causing a large number of American deaths.
Chemotherapy, which is used to destroy cancerous cells that have metastasized away from the original tumor, is not effective enough to be considered a cure, and is not guaranteed to work.
Smoking accounts for one third of all the cancer deaths in America every year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“If a person is going to make one lifestyle change to extend their life, it should be to quit smoking,” said Oppenheimer.
As simple as it may seem to those who have never started smoking in the first place, it is anything but easy for those who are addicted.
“It’s not going to get me to stop (smoking),” said Evan Sickora, freshman pre-CTVA major, upon learning that cancer had surpassed heart disease as the leading killer of Americans under 85. “I really hate cigarettes, (but) they just have a hold on me. Their grasp is pretty hard to get loose of. I’ve tried to quit. Once, I went a week (without smoking), but went right back to it.”
In the United States, 25.6 million men (25 percent) and 22.6 million women (21 percent) are smokers, according to the American Heart Association.
In 2002, the American Cancer society altered the way it calculated cancer-related statistics by factoring in age-adjustment to better compare statistics between different regions.
The change may cause difficulty in comparing the new statistics with the ones calculated without using age-adjustments.