This week the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO), released updated cancer death projections in a call to action, asking the government to help fund cancer prevention and research initiatives and international tobacco control policies. According to the report, the burden of cancer doubled globally between 1975 and 2000, and cancer is expected to become the leading cause of death worldwide in 2010.
"This is a very important issue and does indeed deserve the attention of governments around the world," said Timothy Gardner, M.D., President of the American Heart Association.
The report states that reasons for the growing cancer burden include the adoption in less developed countries of "Western" habits such as tobacco use and high calorie, high-saturated and trans-fat diets.
"These factors are also significant contributors to the global burden of cardiovascular disease," said Gardner. "The IARC's aggressive support of tobacco control is particularly important, as cigarette smoking is the main preventable cause of premature death in the United States, as well as worldwide."
Cigarette smoking accounts for nearly 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths in the U.S. "Tobacco use is, obviously, an enormous health burden across the globe, and makes a significant contribution to deaths from both cancer and cardiovascular disease," he said.
In the United States, while progress is being made in reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke, rates remain high for many of the risk factors that lead to these deaths. In 1998, the American Heart Association set an aggressive goal to reduce coronary heart disease, stroke – the No. 1 and No. 3 killers in the U.S. – and risk by 25% by 2010. The nation has already achieved these reductions in these death rates, but progress continues to lag significantly on some of the key risk factors, including obesity and physical inactivity.
"Without a concerted effort to reduce these risks, the momentum of reducing heart disease and stroke deaths will be lost," Gardner said. "We will see our children developing heart disease earlier, experiencing early deaths or needing major medical care sooner. This could reverse the progress in cardiovascular death rates that we have seen over the last decade.
"The American Heart Association has been working for decades to move out of that 'top spot' of being the number one killer," he said. "It's a distinction that none of us want to have. And unless we can do better in reducing these risk factors in the United States, it may be a long time before we can shed the title of number one."
"We applaud the findings of the IARC report because we know that tobacco control, advocacy and outreach by non-governmental organizations, culturally sensitive risk reduction campaigns and increased federal funding of medical research will move the missions of all of our organizations forward in building healthier lives."
The American Heart Association has partnered with the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association on a joint prevention awareness campaign, "Everyday Choices for a Healthier Life" that empowers Americans to lower their risk of fatal diseases by following a unified set of recommendations. In July 2008, the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Diabetes Association issued a joint report outlining the importance of initiatives that can reduce preventable deaths.