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People in richer countries more likely to die from cancer, says new study

In poorer countries, heart disease remains a leading cause of death.

Image: Shutterstock/fusebulb

CANCER IS NOW the leading cause of death in the world’s richest countries, according to a new medical study of over 150,000 adults. 

It also could also soon overtake heart disease – currently responsible for 40% of deaths worldwide – as the leading cause of death.

Cancer is increasingly becoming a major cause of death globally. However, there are differences depending on where you live – people in richer countries are now twice as likely to die from cancer than you are of heart disease. 

The new study, published in The Lancet journal, followed around 163,000 adults in 21 high-income, middle-income and low-income countries between 2005 and 2016. 

The countries included Argentina, Brazil, China, India and Sweden. 

The study reveals that heart disease is two and half times more likely among middle-aged adults in low-income countries compared to high-income countries. 

This detail – surprising because people in low-income countries face much fewer risks related to heart disease – can be partially explained, the study’s authors suggest, by differing levels of healthcare in poorer and wealthier countries.

Lancet Source: The Lancet

“Our report found cancer to be the second most common cause of death globally in 2017, accounting for 26% of all deaths,” Dr Gilles Dagenais, Emeritus Professor at Laval University, Quebec, said in a statement. 

Diseases like cancer, pneumonia and lung disease were all less likely in poor countries. However, mortality rates remained the highest in poor countries – four times higher than wealthier countries. 

Dr Salim Yusuf, the Professor of Medicine in McMaster University, who led the study, called on governments in low and middle-income countries to respond to the growing issue of heart disease. 

“Governments in these countries need to start by investing a greater portion of their GDP in preventing and managing non- communicable diseases,” he said. 

Heart disease 

A second study, also published in The Lancet, found that metabolic risk factors – medical traits and conditions that increase your liklihood of developing heart disease – are the predominant cause of heart disease worldwide, followed by behaviour and the environment.

In low-income countries, poor diet, pollution and a person’s strength were the major drivers of death – but this was not mirrored in richer countries.

Similarly, low levels of education were much more closely linked to death for people in low-income countries compared to high-income countries. 

In richer countries, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes were all more likely to cause heart disease. 

“There is an opportunity now to realign global health policies and adapt them to different groups of countries based on the risk factors of greatest impact in each setting,” Sumathy Rangarajan, the coordinator of the study, said. 

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