The good news: U.S. deaths from heart disease and stroke are down by 30 percent, the American Heart Association is reporting. Heart disease deaths fell from 864,480 in 2005 to 829,072 in 2006, the most recent year statistics are available. Stroke deaths declined from 143,579 in 2005 to 137,265 in 2006.

The bad news: heart disease is still the nation’s top killer, and stroke is the third most common cause of death, behind cancer, new research shows. Combined, they account for 34 percent of all deaths.

"It's one of the most remarkable achievements of modern medicine to have this kind of decline," Gregg C. Fonarow, a cardiologist at U.C.L.A.'s Geffen School of Medicine, told the Los Angeles Times. "But there is still obviously a lot of work to be done."

The improvements, published yesterday in the journal Circulation, are due to better treatments for heart attacks and strokes, and more effective ways of preventing additional episodes, Fonarow told the Times. Better control over risky conditions such as high cholesterol and blood pressure are also credited with the decline, as are shrinking smoking rates, Reuters notes.

Globally, cancer is catching up with heart disease. An estimated 12.4 million people will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 7.6 million people will die of it, according to a report released last week by the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer. By 2030, some 26.4 million people around the world will have cancer, and it will kill 17 million, according to the report.

In contrast, there were 13 million heart attack and stroke deaths in 2004, according to the WHO. Some 23.5 million people will die of heart disease by 2030, the agency noted in another report released last month. Last week's report blames aging and growing rates of smoking – both risk factors for cancer –for the expected tumor deaths in developing countries.

"This is going to present amazing problems at every level in every society worldwide," the group's Peter Boyle said at a news conference, according to Reuters. Among them is the provision of palliative care, including pain management, in developing countries that restrict the use of narcotics.

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