May 10, 2010


Will One in Four Americans Die of Cancer? (Maggie Mahar, 5/10/10, Taking Note)

Dartmouth's Steven Woloshin, Lisa M. Schwartz and H. Gilbert Welch broke out the possibility of dying of cancer by age, sex, and smoking status in an article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2008. It turns out that if you are a 50-year-old man who never smoked, the chances that, over the next 10 years, you will die of one of the cancers that are most likely to kill men ( prostate cancer, lung cancer, or colon cancer) are just 4 out of 1,000. That is a 0.4% chance. (The odds are higher, 5 out of 1,000, that you will die in an accident). If he is a smoker, the odds for a 50-year-old man more than quadruple, to 21 out of 1,000.

For a 50-year-old woman who doesn't smoke, the chances of dying of lung, breast,ovarian or cervical cancer over the next 10 years stand at 7 out of 1,000; if you smoke the odds rise to 20 out of 1,000. The authors of the study define a "non-smoker" as someone who has smoked less than 100 cigarettes in her life. A "smoker" is someone who has inhaled more than 100 cigarettes and smokes now (any amount.) If you quit smoking, your odds of dying of cancer are cut in half ten years later.

Moreover, it's worth noting that the likelihood of dying of cancer are one in four for all 25-year old men (smokers and non-smokers lumped together) born in 1985. Back in 1975, projections suggested that a man born that year had only a 18% chance of dying of cancer, while a woman had a 16% chance. By 1985, the odds for a man had risen to 25%, and for a woman to 20%. This is because we are living longer. In the past, a person was more likely to be killed by heart disease or an infection before cancer caught up with him or her. (Typically cancer tumors are diagnosed at age 67.)

Another way of putting this is to say that the longer you live, the more likely it is that cancer will cause your death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2010 8:09 PM
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