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Study: More than 4 million potential years of life lost to cancer in the U.S.

Study: More than 4 million potential years of life lost to cancer in the U.S.
More than 4 million potential years of life in the United States were lost to cancer in 2017, a new study shows, with young adults in particular struck down by the disease well before life expectancy. Photo by Klbz/Pixabay

Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Deaths from cancer accounted for more than 4 million potential years of life lost in 2017 in the United States, striking down young adults in particular well before average life expectancy, an analysis published Friday by the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found.

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There were 599,099 cancer deaths nationally in 2017, based on death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Lung cancer, the most deadly cancer in the United States, accounted for approximately 24% of cancer deaths nationally and 21% of potential years of life lost, while colon and rectal cancer made up 9% of deaths and 10% of potential years of life lost, the data showed.

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In addition, pancreatic cancer was the cause of just over 7% of cancer deaths nationally and 7% of potential years of life lost and breast cancer accounted for 7% of deaths and 9% of potential years of life lost.

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"Potential years of life lost is a useful complementary measure to cancer mortality rates," study co-author Dr. Minkyo Song said in a statement.

"Together, they provide a more detailed picture of the social and economic toll of cancer," said Song, a research fellow at the National Cancer institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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More than 600,000 people in the United States have died or will die from cancer in 2020, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Potential years of life lost is an estimate of the average years a person would have lived if he or she had not died prematurely.

Average life expectancy in the United States is about 79 years, and cancer is the leading cause of death in those younger than 80 years.

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For this study, the researchers used national mortality data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, and defined potential years of life lost as the number of years lost prior to age 75 to quantify how many years of life were prematurely lost.

Nearly 4.3 million years of life were prematurely lost due to cancer in 2017, the data showed.

Ethnic and racial minority groups account for a disproportionate share of the burden of premature cancer death in 2017, with 78% occurring in non-Hispanic Whites with only 70% of potential years of life lost.

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Conversely, Hispanic people accounted for 7% of cancer deaths and 10% of potential years of life lost, while Black people made up 12% of cancer deaths and 15% of potential years of life lost, the data showed.

Testicular cancer had the highest potential years of life lost per death, with an average of 34 years lost, followed by bone cancer, with an average of 26 years lost and endocrine cancers including thymus cancer, with an average of 25 years lost, the researchers said.

The total number of potential years of life lost increased slightly from 1990, despite an overall decrease in cancer deaths, researchers said.

In 1990, 4.26 million potential years of life were lost, compared with the 4.28 million in 2017, the data showed, with the increase likely due to the growth of the U.S. population.

For the most part, potential years of life lost mirrored overall U.S. cancer mortality trends, but one exception to this pattern was prostate cancer -- which caused about 5% of U.S. cancer deaths in 2017 but only 2% of potential years of life lost.

"Potential years of life lost can be used to estimate the impact of cancer death in younger populations," Song said. "This metric highlights the enormous loss of life due to certain cancers that occur at younger ages, even if they occur infrequently."

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