Study: Over 4 Million Potential Years of Life Lost to Cancer in 2017
Disproportionate share of the burden of premature cancer deaths in the United States falls on racial and ethnic minorities and on younger people.
More than 4 million potential years of life were lost to cancer in 2017, with cancers that occur at younger ages causing a disproportionate share of the burden in the United States, according to a study in the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention,
“Potential years of life lost (PYLL) is an estimate of the average years a person would have lived if he or she had not died prematurely,” said the study’s lead author, Mingkyo Song, MD, PhD, a research fellow at the National Cancer institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. “Given that cancer is the leading cause of death in those younger than 80 years old, it is important to study the effect of cancer death rates among younger people.”
In 2017, there were 599,099 cancer deaths in the United States, according to death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In this study, Song and colleagues used mortality data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, coupled with a commonly accepted definition of PYLL as the number of years lost prior to age 75, to quantify how many years of life were prematurely lost. They calculated that 4,280,128 years of life were prematurely lost due to cancer in 2017.
For the most part, PYLL mirrored overall trends in cancer mortality, Song said.
Lung cancer, for example, the deadliest type of cancer, accounted for approximately 24.3 percent of U.S. cancer deaths and 20.8 percent of PYLL. Colon/rectum cancer accounted for 8.8 percent of deaths and 9.6 percent of PYLL. Pancreatic cancer accounted for 7.3 percent of deaths and 6.6 percent of PYLL, while breast cancer accounted for 7.1 percent of deaths and 9.4 percent of PYLL.
An exception to the pattern was prostate cancer, which causes about 5.1 percent of U.S. cancer deaths but only 2 percent of PYLL.
“Many of the deaths caused by this cancer occurred at older ages, resulting in fewer PYLL,” Song noted.
She added that PYLL can be used to estimate the impact of cancer on deaths that occur at younger ages.
“This metric highlights the enormous loss of life due to certain cancers that occur at younger ages, even if they occur infrequently,” she said
For example, testicular cancer accounted for 0.1 percent of cancer deaths in 2017, and 0.3 percent of PYLL. Bone cancer accounted for 0.3 percent of deaths, but 0.7 percent of PYLL. Although these cancers did not contribute dramatically to overall cancer mortality, they caused the highest numbers of years lost per death.
The study also showed that ethnic and racial minority groups account for a disproportionate share of the burden of premature death, Song said. In 2017, 78 percent of all cancer deaths occurred in non-Hispanic whites, but only 70 percent of PYLL were recorded in this population. By contrast, Hispanics accounted for 7 percent of cancer deaths and 10 percent of PYLL, while Blacks accounted for 12 percent of cancer deaths and 15 percent of PYLL.