Heart disease gaining on cancer as a major cause of death in young women

April 1, 2021

A recent nationwide study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers revealed that women younger than 65 are dying from heart disease at an increased rate compared with past years, according to a news release.

“Young women in the United States are becoming less healthy, which is now reversing prior improvements seen in heart disease deaths for the gender,” says Erin Michos MD, MHS, director of women's cardiovascular health and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In the study – an analysis of U.S. death certificates between 1999 and 2018 from a national database – Michos and her colleagues compared heart disease and cancer deaths in women under 65. Their findings were reported in the European Heart Journal: Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes.

The researchers found that during the 10-year study period, cancer was the most prevalent cause of premature death in women under 65 – slightly more than twice as much as heart disease. However, the overall cancer mortality rate (age adjusted) for women under 65 decreased from 62 to 45 deaths per 100,000 people while the overall heart disease mortality rate (age adjusted) dropped from 29 to 23 deaths per 100,000.

Another finding from the study was that the annual percentage change (APC) in age-adjusted mortality rates for cancer declined year after year during the study period, while it increased for heart disease in two specific groups from 2010 to 2018: women 25 to 34 (2.2%) and women 55 to 64 (0.5%).

The APCs rose significantly after 2008 for women living in the midwestern United States, medium and small metropolitan areas, and rural areas. Additionally, APCs were found to have increased for white women from 2009 to 2013 and for Native American women from 2009 to 2018.

Finally, the researchers determined the mortality gap between cancer and heart disease in women under 65 narrowed from a mortality rate (age adjusted) of 33 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 23 deaths per 100,000 in 2018.

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