June 17th, 2011
12:01 AM ET
The overall cancer death rate declined between 1990 and 2007, according to the latest statistics by the American Cancer Society. However, the report finds disparities still exist among socioeconomic and racial groups.
The statistics suggest an individual's education level plays a role. In 2007, premature cancer death rates among the least educated were more than double those of the most educated people. The authors suggest 37%, or 60,370 of these deaths (in people aged 25 to 64) could have been prevented.
"We need to apply what we know to avert unnecessary deaths from cancer," said Elizabeth Ward, National Vice President for Intramural Research at the American Cancer Society and co-author of the report.
"We need to make sure that all populations and communities have access to this life-saving information. At the same time, we need to continue to do research because we don't have all the answers yet."
"There's a lot of social implication when someone dies prematurely," Ward said. "These are people who are often employed, economically productive, parenting children, so the ramification of someone dying of cancer in this age group are very significant for their families and for society. It really is important from a social point of view if we can intervene to prevent these unnecessary deaths."
"We're using education as one of the measures of socioeconomic status – many factors about health differ by socioeconomic status, and this data shows that cancer is one of them," Ward said. "People who have a lower level of education are, in general, more likely to be poor, more likely to not have health insurance and more likely to live in environments where there's less access to healthy foods and safe opportunities for physical activity."
She also added that more educated people are less likely to smoke.
Ward suggested to really have the biggest impact on the population, both educational and racial disparities need to be reduced.
"If we eliminated both educational and racial disparities....what we're seeing is we can eliminate 43% of cancer deaths in men and 30% in women," she said.
The American Cancer Society estimates 1,596,670 new cancer cases this year; they project an estimated 571,950 deaths from cancer will occur. In men, cancer of the prostate, lung and colon/rectum are expected to be the most common among new cases.
In women, the three most common new cancers are expected to be of the breast, lung and colon/rectum. Lung cancer is expected to claim the most lives in both sexes, followed by prostate in men and breast cancer in women. Third in both sexes is colon/rectal cancer. However, lung cancer death rates in women are now on the decline.
The death rate estimate for this year is the equivalent of more than 1,500 deaths per day. The probability of being diagnosed with an invasive cancer over a lifetime is 44% for men and 38% for women.
"It's important for each person to realize that there are things that they can do for themselves to reduce their risk," Ward added.
She said strategies for men and women include avoiding tobacco products and maintaining a healthy weight through diet and physically activity.
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