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Cancer overtakes heart disease as deadliest in Delaware

University of Delaware

  Cancer has overtaken heart disease as the deadliest ailment in Delaware and 20 other states. But officials say deaths from both diseases are still dropping -- just at different rates.

Delaware is now 14th in the nation for cancer deaths, as opposed to second, more than a decade ago.

Division of Public Health director Dr. Karyl Rattay says the First State has made great strides in battling cancer. Still, heart disease rates are now falling even faster.

"There have been a lot of advancements over the last few decades to increase and improve upon identification and management of heart disease," she says. "And that's really making a big difference in mortality rates."

The American Heart Association reported last year that Delaware ranked 23rd in the nation for deaths from heart disease.

Rattay adds that some individual cancer rates in Delaware are still bucking national trends -- as are rates for parts of the treatment process. Delaware is third in the country for colorectal cancer screenings and fourth for mammograms.

"We are identifying cancer much earlier, and getting people into treatment earlier, and that's saving lives," Rattay says -- especially among African-Americans. They now have around the same mortality rate for colorectal cancer as white Delawareans, while nationwide, she says, there's a higher racial disparity for that disease.

Rattay also notes that incidence rates for many major cancers aren't falling as quickly as death rates. It's good and bad -- she says they're still concerned about risk factors that can drive cancer, like obesity and poor diet and exercise.

Delaware's worst killer is still lung cancer. Among women, Rattay says Delaware is fourth in the nation for that deaths from that disease. For men, it's 12th.

"We've made improvements in our smoking in our state, but we still have a lot of work to do in that area," she says.

Among Delaware teens, she says, cigarette use is about on par with the national rate of 15 percent. But vaping is more sharply on the rise. Rattay says right now, about 14 percent of Delaware teens report using an e-cigarette in the past month.

Read more: trends and expected cancer statistics for 2016.

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