Health Team

Cancer overtakes heart disease as leading killer in N.C.

Posted November 9, 2010 11:22 a.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2010 7:16 p.m. EST

 Ashley Bowman, a Forsyth county resident is looking for a new kidney after numerous life setbacks. Bowman is on the transplant list and in full-time dialysis. Despite what she's facing, she was determined to fulfill her dream.

— The North Carolina Division of Public Health reported Tuesday that cancer is now the leading cause of death in North Carolina.

According to newly released 2009 statistics, cancer claimed the lives of 17,476 people last year. Heart disease, displaced this year as the state’s top killer, was responsible for 17,133 deaths.

“Cancer and heart disease have consistently ranked highest in their toll on the people of North Carolina,” State Health Director Jeff Engel said in a statement. “For the most part, these are preventable diseases, so we must continue to educate our citizens about lifestyle changes they can make to stay healthier.”

The most fatal cancers were lung and throat cancer, colorectal cancer and breast cancer, comprising 46 percent (8,076) of the total cancer deaths.

According to information prepared by the State Center for Health Statistics, more men (9,356) than women (8,120) died of cancer in 2009. Heart disease remains the top killer among women.

To address this growing health concern, the N.C. Division of Public Health recently merged all of its cancer programs into the Cancer Prevention and Control Branch, which supports local health departments, hospitals, community organizations and statewide partners in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer.

“Through our partnerships, we are able to identify the barriers that exist in local communities, like access to care,” said Linda Rascoe, head of the Cancer Prevention and Control Branch. “Then we are able to develop strategies to address those barriers, with the ultimate goal of reducing the overall cancer burden in North Carolina.”

The cancer branch also is responsible for leading implementation of the statewide cancer plan, developed by the North Carolina Advisory Committee on Cancer Coordination and Control. Advisory committee members are appointed by the governor and represent survivors, legislators, physicians, health care professionals and advocates.

For more information on the leading causes of death in North Carolina as well as specific breakdowns of top killers by age group, visit the State Center for Health Statistics website.

For information on cancer prevention and resources in our state, visit