Cancer expected to overtake heart disease as No. 1 killer

Washington - (NBC) – Cancer is expected to overtake heart disease this year as the No. 1 reason people die in this country.

Last year, there were 1.5 million new cases, and over 500,000 people died.  Now, new research gives hope to patients with colon and lung cancer, but raises concerns about what some scientists call an epidemic: skin cancer.

Harvard reports nearly 9 out of 10 people with advanced colon cancer get chemotherapy, unless they're over 75.

Elderly patients have a 50-50 chance of receiving treatment, but researchers found the elderly actually tolerate chemo just as well as younger patients and are less likely to get sick as a result.

There's also new hope for people with inoperable lung tumors.

Stereotactic body radiation therapy uses dozens of highly-focused beams to "gang up" on the tumor. The treatment increased survival rates for the deadliest cancer from less than 40 to 56 percent.

Meanwhile, there are new concerns about non-melanoma skin cancer. It's the most common malignant disease in the country, affecting over 13 million Americans.

Some doctors say skin cancer should be treated as a chronic disease. People who've had it are nine times more likely than the average American to be diagnosed again.

These studies and more are featured in this week's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The issue is entirely devoted to cancer research.

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