Decreases in Cancer Deaths Limited to Highly-Educated

For people from 25 to 64, U. S. death rates from the four major cancers — lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal — have decreased steadily from the early 1990’s.  However, with a single exception, those declines have been limited to people with at least 12 years of education.

For colon and rectal cancer, death rates for those with at least 16 years of education declined significantly for men and women, both black and white.  However, death rates did not change at all for white men, white women or black women who had less than a high school education.  Death rates for black men with less than 12 years of education actually increased by 2.7 percent each year.

During the same period of time, college-educated black women with lung cancer had death rates remain stable, the only group of college-educated people whose cancer deaths did not decline.

Among people with less than a high school education, only black women with breast cancer had a decrease in death rates (1.7% per year).  White women with lung cancer experienced at 1.4 percent increase in deaths in addition to the 2.7 percent increase in colon cancer deaths in black men.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta and the American Cancer Society studied cancer death trends from 1993 through 2001 using information from the National Center for Health Statistics, education level as recorded on death certificates, and population data from the US Bureau of Census Current Population Survey.

They found decreases in death rates grew more rapidly over time for each additional year of education.

Tracy Kinsey and Ahmedin Jemal and their colleagues concluded,

Recent declines in death rates from major cancers in the United States mainly reflect declines in more highly educated individuals.

They believe that other factors associated with cancer death rates such as smoking, screening, and access to treatment may also be linked to educational achievement.

SOURCE: Kinsey et al., Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Advanced Access, July 8, 2008.

More information about the study: Memo to the Media, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, July 8, 2008.

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