Cancer Statistics 2011 report finds progress has not benefitted all segments of the population equally

April 25, 2017

The reports feature a Special Section on the impact of eliminating disparities on cancer deaths. Level of education is often used as a marker of socioeconomic status. In 2007, cancer death rates in the least educated segment of the population were 2.6 times higher than those in the most educated. This disparity was largest for lung cancer, for which the death rate was five times higher in the least educated than for the most educated. Differences in lung cancer death rates reflect the striking gradient in smoking prevalence by level of education; 31% of men with 12 or fewer years of education are current smokers, compared to 12% of college graduates and 5% of men with graduate degrees.

The special section also estimated the numbers of potential premature cancer deaths that could be avoided in the absence of socioeconomic and/or racial disparities. If all adults ages 25 to 64 in the United States in 2007 had the cancer death rate of the most educated non-Hispanic whites, 37% --or 60,370 out of 164,190-premature cancer deaths could potentially have been avoided. For African Americans, closing the gap between death rates among the most and least educated could potentially avert twice as many premature cancer deaths as eliminating racial disparities between blacks and whites, underscoring the preponderance of poverty in cancer disparities across all segments of the population.

The annual reports have become critical tools for scientists, public health experts, and policymakers in assessing the current burden of cancer. These estimates are some of the most widely quoted cancer statistics in the world. The Society's leading team of epidemiologic researchers, in collaboration with scientists from the National Cancer Institute, compiles and analyzes incidence and mortality data to estimate the number of new cancer cases and deaths for the current year nationwide and in individual states.

The expected numbers of new cancer cases and cancer deaths should be interpreted with caution because these estimates are based on statistical models and may vary considerably from year to year. Not all changes in cancer trends can be captured by modeling techniques and sometimes the model may be too sensitive to recent trends, resulting in over- or under-estimates. For these reasons, the estimates should not be compared from year-to-year to determine trends; age-standardized cancer incidence and death rates are the best way to monitor changes in cancer occurrence and death. Despite these limitations, the American Cancer Society's estimates of the number of new cancer cases and deaths in the current year provide reasonably accurate estimates of the burden of new cancer cases and deaths in the United States. Such estimates will assist in continuing efforts to reduce the public health burden of cancer.

Source: American Cancer Society