As reported by the New Britain Herald, January 23, 2005.

Doctors Remain Optimistic About Cancer

By Scott Cornell

State health officials have agreed that further advancements in the prevention and treatment of heart disease have contributed to the recent news that cancer has surpassed heart disease as the number one killer of Americans under age 85; 98.4 percent of the population is under the age of 85.

The American Cancer Society’s annual statistical report, released Wednesday, contained the information that has generated health-related conversations throughout the state, according to the AP.

"I think over the last 20 to 30 years, we’ve seen such significant advances in the treatment, prevention and diagnosis of heart disease during the early stages that it’s making an impact on the outcome," said Dr. Bruce Liang, chairman of the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Center, located at the University of Connecticut.

"We’re very pleased that heart disease is no longer the number one killer of Americans under age 85, but if you think of the total aggregate, the whole population over and under 85, heart disease still outnumbers cancer deaths."

Cigarette smoking has the ability to cause general vascular disease affecting the heart, brain and lungs, and while a decrease in the number of cigarette smokers in the United States has contributed to less heart disease fatalities, Liang said one way to keep the number down is to prevent childhood obesity.

There are more obese children today than there were when he was a child, according to Liang, a member of the cardiology field for almost 25 years. If not prevented and talked about at an early stage, childhood obesity may set the stage for the initial onset of heart disease and diabetes

Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Connecticut, agrees that while the mortality rate has improved for both ailments, the heart disease mortality rate has decreased faster. However, the entire population is not represented in that statistic, a point Liang alluded to, and cancer covers a broader variety of illnesses, according to Runowicz.

"People think of cancer as a disease, one disease, and it’s clearly not. It’s like a car; cars vary in size, model and brand. That’s the analogy I use with my patients," Runowicz said. "Heart disease is more homogeneous, generally it comes in only a few forms. The term ‘cancer’ covers a wide realm of diseases."

There are four main reasons why Americans under the age of 80 are dying less of heart disease in 2005, including preventive medicine, new drugs, better diagnostic testing and improved treatment methods, from "better ways to do bypass surgery and the advent of coronary angioplasty," according to Dr. Milton Sands, medical director of the cardiovascular services at New Britain General Hospital.

Smoking cessation, the lowering of people’s cholesterol and blood pressure regulation are all methods of preventing either illness. Beta-blockers, which allow the heart to do less work, ace inhibitors, to decrease blood pressure and protect the kidneys, and anti blood-clotting agents to lessen abnormal blood-clotting are some of the new drugs being used to treat and prevent heart disease, according to Sands.

Improvements in the diagnostic testing for coronary artery disease and advancements in surgery have also contributed to the drop in mortality rate caused by heart disease. Both Liang and Runowicz agreed that while the death rates for cancer and heart disease have declined, the numbers can be kept down for both ailments by utilizing the same prevention methods, and research must be done to better cure and treat the people already suffering from some form of cancer, Liang said.

Runowicz’s department at UConn has written a book titled "The Answer to Cancer," focusing primarily on cancer prevention, but the cancer prevention plan can really be used as a lifestyle plan, working for both heart disease and cancer prevention, she said.

Some of her prevention tips include no smoking, exercise, eating more than five fruits or vegetables per day, keeping a healthy weight, practicing safe sex, staying out of too much sunlight and making regular appointments for check-ups.

While lung cancer continues to be the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women are the most commonly diagnosed cancers, according to Runowicz. Although men’s lung cancer is decreasing by nearly 2 percent a year and women’s lung cancer is still increasing but at a lesser rate, lung cancer still accounts for 28 percent of all cancer deaths, largely due to smoking, Runowicz said.

"We have to impact our mortality by changing the behaviors we can change," Runowicz said. "The big message here is that many cancers and heart disease is preventable, and cancer is a difficult disease to treat, but not a difficult disease to prevent."