Topkea, KS – Cancer is now the leading cause of death in Kansas...even though cancer rates have been going down. Kansas Public Radio's Bryan Thompson explains.
For almost 90 years, heart disease has been the number one cause of death in Kansas. But the 2009 annual summary of vital statistics, which was just released by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, now lists cancer as the leading killer.
"Mortality from both of these groups of diseases has been declining over recent times, thankfully," says Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, the state health officer. "But the rate of decline for heart disease has been going on longer and is a steeper drop than for cancer."
Dr. Eberhart-Phillips says the death rate from heart disease peaked in the 1950s and then began coming down in the 1960s and '70s, as science began to shed light on the risk factors involved. He credits the reduction in the percentage of people who smoke as one of the biggest factors reducing both heart disease and cancer.
Even as the rates of those diseases have gone down, there were still more than 5,000 deaths from heart disease and 5,000 deaths from cancer in Kansas last year. Those two causes accounted for 44% of all deaths in Kansas.