(HealthDay News) — The gap between heart disease and the second-leading cause of death, cancer, has been narrowing since 1968, according to an August data brief published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Annual heart disease deaths decreased nationwide from a peak of 771,169 in 1985 to 596,577 in 2011. In the meantime, cancer deaths have nearly tripled from 210,733 in 1950 to 576,691 in 2011. Between 2011 and 2014, heart disease and cancer deaths have both increased in roughly parallel fashion. Heart disease deaths increased by 3.0 percent between 2011 and 2014, from 596,577 to 614,348, while cancer deaths increased by 2.6 percent during the same period, from 576,691 to 591,699.

Cancer surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death for 22 states in 2014. In 2000, Alaska and Minnesota were the only two states where cancer killed more people than heart disease. In addition, cancer is now the leading cause of death for a number of minority groups, including Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders.

“It’s been edging this way for a while,” report coauthor Robert Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the NCHS, told HealthDay. “We’ve taken for granted that heart disease is the leading cause of death, but now because of prevention efforts and advances in treatment, we’re making substantial progress with heart disease, to the point where now it’s roughly on par with cancer.”

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