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The 3 Deadliest Diseases in the U.S.

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There's good news and bad news for Americans. The good news is that the age-adjusted death rate in the U.S. is lower than it's ever been. What's the bad news? The same diseases still kill too many Americans year after year. But progress is being made. Here are the three deadliest diseases in the U.S. -- and what encouraging developments are at hand.

1. Heart disease
Heart disease causes nearly 600,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Almost two-thirds of that total results from coronary heart disease, which stems from narrowing and blockage of the arteries by deposits of cholesterol and other substances.

Mortality rates for heart disease have been decreasing relatively steadily since 1980. Availability of medications to help individuals control cholesterol levels has no doubt played a major role in this improvement. Now, a new cholesterol drug that could be one of the most effective ever will be available.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Merck's (NYSE: MRK  ) Liptruzet. The drug actually is a combination of two already-approved cholesterol medications -- Lipitor from Pfizer (NYSE: PFE  ) and Merck's Zetia. In clinical studies, Liptruzet was found to reduce "bad" cholesterol by as much as 61%, significantly better than either of its two component drugs.

This should be great news for patients who have trouble keeping cholesterol levels in check taking one of the currently available medications. And with improvements like this in cholesterol drugs and in other areas, those high numbers of deaths related to heart disease will hopefully keep on falling.

2. Cancer
Cancer continues to be one of the scariest words for too many Americans. Around 575,000 deaths each year across the U.S. result from various forms of cancer.   

Several positives leap out when we look at cancer statistics, though. Cancer-related mortality rates have declined since the early 1990s. While prostate cancer and breast cancer rank at the top of the list when it comes to new diagnoses, many more people now survive battles with these forms of cancer.

Lung cancer, though it ranks third in new cases, stands as the leading cancer-related cause of death and kills more Americans than the next three types of cancer combined. This is discouraging, but there are some breakthroughs making a difference.

Several new drugs are now available that fight lung cancer, including Xalkori from Pfizer. Clinical studies for Xalkori showed progression-free survival rates twice as high as those with standard therapies. However, perhaps even better news for the fight against lung cancer comes from technology used in the development of Xalkori and other cancer drugs.

Drugs like Xalkori reached the market in around half the time that most take to do so in part through the use of genetic screening. Next-generation sequencing technology from Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN  ) and others now enables researchers to quickly sequence DNA. This speeds up drug development by helping companies target drugs for specific gene mutations and shortening the amount of time required to enroll patients. With more effective treatments reaching the market sooner, more lives could potentially be saved.

3. Chronic lower respiratory disease
Around 140,000 Americans die each year from chronic lower respiratory disease, primarily due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Smoking is the key risk factor for COPD, causing as much as 90% of COPD deaths.

Unfortunately, chronic lower respiratory disease stands out as the only one of the top three deadliest diseases in the U.S. that saw an increase in age-related death rates in the most recent CDC data. However, cigarette smoking trends continue to drop for both adults and students. This could portend a better outlook in the future in the battle against this disease.

Another promising sign comes from the development of effective treatments for COPD. GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) and Theravance (UNKNOWN: THRX.DL  ) obtained FDA approval just days ago for a new COPD drug called Breo. Even more hope hinges on another drug potentially on the way from the two companies -- Anoro. The FDA set a decision date of Dec. 18 for the drug. If approved, Anoro would become the first treatment to combine a long-acting muscarinic antagonist and a long-acting beta-2 agonist.

Doing good
Not only are all of the companies mentioned doing good by helping fight America's deadliest diseases, they're also doing well for investors. Theravance and Illumina rank as the best-performing stocks of the group, with one-year gains of 90% and 58%, respectively. Pfizer shares jumped more than 30% in the past year, with Merck's stock rising by 22%. Glaxo lagged behind, but still recorded a respectable 15% gain during the period.

There are many other companies, universities, and government researchers who are also hard at work to find new ideas for tackling these challenging diseases. Hopefully, we will soon reach the point where the good news outweighs the bad.

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 5:50 PM, baracksfriend wrote:

    They forgot about the #1 leading disease in this country today: Abortion. It's a disease that kills over 1 million children per year. (Maybe someone should start a charity to do research on this one).

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 9:07 PM, rjconklin wrote:

    ok here is one for the editors. a company called VIACYTE has a cure for type 1&2 diabetes. they have had this cure for several years. two years from now they will begin human testing and maybe ten years from now the public may get the cure. there is really something wrong here with the FDA. they have been curing mice and rats while humans die.

    in this day of super computers that could extrapolate data and speed testing to a year the FDA is still in the horse and buggy era. with stem cell breakthrough discoveries every day the FDA keeps slowing down.

    my wish is this VIACYTE product be available to the general public in another country.

    editors please look at this product and read everything carefully including comments by researchers i am sure you will come to the same conclusion i did.

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 10:27 PM, NTexas wrote:

    Let's not forget one of the top killers... MEDICALLY CAUSED DEATHS. Google it, over 1,000,000 people each year die from medical negligence or mistakes.

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 11:01 PM, dd9999 wrote:

    Abortion is the leading cause of death of human beings in the United States. This can be cured easily by eliminating liberal murderers with 1st degree murder charges. Start with Obama.

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2013, at 11:23 PM, Commonsensefools wrote:

    Amazing to me that we are so ignorant in not realizing that the top 3 "killers" for the most part are self induced. We don't take care of ourselves and the are mystified when we get sick. We put crappy food in our bodies, eat to excess, become morbidly obese, smoke, drink to excess, drugs.....I could go on and on. Then we blame anyone and everything but ourselves for our health issues. Wake up America! We are our own worst enemies.

  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2013, at 5:32 AM, Riggerwo wrote:

    These 3 deadly diseases are mostly due to life style! they are also 3 of the most easily avoided diseases....but until the American public recovers from its "sugar high"..eats right, exercises, stops smoking...then these will continue to be the 3 deadliest diseases!...and to make their health even better they need to get off Big Pharmas money making drugs like Statins that often do more harm than damage and have been prescribed like candy!

  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2013, at 9:55 AM, bill5153 wrote:

    I certainly agree about these as the three top diseases. Yes abortion is horrific, but it is not a disease, it is a mental illness cause by Satan and endorsed by our Supreme Justice Court. There are over 1,000,000 babies murdered yearly or thousands daily as if the baby is nothing but living tissues. It is a baby for heavens sake, it has a head, arms, legs, body, heart, a brain, stomache, a soul, and it can and does feel pain! In fact the baby's heart begins beating at around 18th day.

    Don't forget about mental disorders and suicide, it too is growing leaps and bounds. bill5153

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