Cancer is No. 1 killer in world's richest countries, surpassing heart disease

Cancer is the leading cause of death in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, surpassing heart disease as the No. 1 killer, new research suggests.

People living in higher earning countries like Sweden, Argentina and Canada are more likely to die from cancer than a cardiovascular disease like a heart attack, new research published Tuesday in the medical journal The Lancet found.

Researchers analyzed data on diseases and death among 162,534 adults aged 35 to 70 from 21 countries across five continents from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) from 2005 to 2016.

They separated the data based on where adults were from and divided it into three sections based on the country’s estimated income. Low-income countries included: Tanzania, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Middle-income countries consisted of Iran, South Africa, Philippines, Colombia, China, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, Poland, Argentina and Chile. And the richest countries included were Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Sweden and Canada. (There was no accurate estimated income for Palestine, another country that was included, researchers noted).

The study found that cardiovascular disease is still the major cause of 40% of deaths globally, however, death from cancer kills twice as many people as heart disease in high-income countries.

Medicines to treat high cholesterol and blood-pressure in wealthier countries have helped lower heart disease-related mortality rates in the past few years, scientists noted. Gilles Dagenais, lead author on the study, and a professor at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada, explained that higher rates of death from heart disease in lower income countries could be the result of poor quality health care or less access to treatment.

Cancer could soon be the No. 1 cause of death globally, researchers noted.

“As cardiovascular disease decreases in many countries, mortality from cancer will probably become the leading cause of death. The high mortality in poorer countries is not related to risk factors, but it might be related to poorer access to health care,” the study claimed.

The United States was not featured in the research, but heart disease and cancer have both been the primary and secondary causes of death in America, responsible for 46% of deaths in the U.S., according to


Spending on cancer treatments in the U.S. has surged from $26.8 billion to $42.1 billion between 2011 and 2016, the highest-ranked treatment area in specialty drug spending, according to a separate study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice last year.