What's #1, and does it really matter

What's #1, and does it really matter?

Cancer surpasses heart disease among "young" Americans, but isn't tops overall.

Cancer, not heart disease, is now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 85. So says the American Cancer Society's 2005 statistical atlas of cancer. This report made headlines for a good reason: Since 1900, heart disease has claimed the top spot every year but one (1918, when the flu epidemic killed a half million Americans).

If you include people age 85 and older, though, the balance tips toward heart disease (see figure). Add in strokes, most of which are caused by the same disease process that causes heart attacks — atherosclerosis — and the catchall of cardiovascular disease far outweighs cancer in the deaths column.

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