Dallas Morning News: We've all read this message: Heart disease claims more American lives than any other disease.
Now here's a new one: Cancer has surpassed heart disease as the nation's most lethal illness for those younger than 85.
The American Cancer Society report of last week says 476,009 Americans under 85 died of cancer in 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That same year, heart disease killed 450,637 people under that age.
While those raw numbers are significant -- and eye opening -- they tell only part of the story.
More people are surviving cancer and heart disease, signs of progress on both fronts. The trends represent victories for medical discoveries, early screening, new drugs, decreases in smoking among adults and better surgical techniques. Among cancer patients, the five-year survival rate has improved from one in two in the 1970s to nearly three in four today.
Less encouraging news is that Americans still don't make enough right lifestyle choices -- throwing away the cigarettes, eating healthier foods and exercising regularly. About a third of all cancers are related to smoking and another third to obesity, poor diets and lack of exercise, the same poor lifestyle choices that contribute to heart disease.
And those poor choices will produce new cancer cases. Researchers estimate that about 1.4 million new cancer cases will occur this year. Lung cancer remains the biggest killer, estimated to kill more than 163,500 people this year. Prostate cancer will strike 232,090 men and kill 30,350. Breast cancer will be diagnosed in 211,240 women; it will kill 40,410.
Not all deaths are preventable, and researchers yearn to learn more about how genetics and environmental factors relate to cancer and heart disease.