Cancer now tops heart disease as leading killer in Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in America for decades, but in Kansas it's now cancer. That's according to a new government report that looked at changes between 2000 and 2014.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics show heart disease remains the leading overall killer in America. That's the case in Missouri, too. But in 22 states, including Kansas, cancer has overtaken heart disease. It's happened in 20 states just since the year 2000.

The head of the University of Kansas Cancer Center pointed to several reasons. Dr. Roy Jensen said there are effective therapies for the two main causes of heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Cancer is more complicated.

"There are literally hundreds of different types of cancer," Dr. Jensen said.

And once the disease has metastasized or spread to other places in the body, "We just don't have effective therapy. That's all there is to it."

He said early detection is vital in saving lives, yet many people don't get checked. With colorectal, one of the most common cancers, one in three people 50 and older have not been screened as recommended.

"We're vastly underutilizing the things that we know will make a difference," Dr. Jensen added.

That includes CT screening for lung cancer. It's now recommended for some current and former smokers.

He said HPV vaccination for teens and young adults is also underutilized in prevention of cervical, throat and some other cancers. Kansas has one of the lowest HPV vaccination rates.

Dr. Jensen emphasized other ways to prevent cancer. They include not smoking, losing weight and exercising. Those can also help you avoid heart disease.