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By the numbers: Inequality impacts U.S. cancer death rates

By addressing health disparities from socioeconomic issues that continue to be prevalent in the U.S., there could be an estimated 25% reduction in overall cancer death rates.


A north-south divide can be seen in this example of health disparities. From Siegel RL, Jemal A, Wender RC, et al (2018). Data: Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

Why it matters: The health care disparities caused by poverty, racism, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, low-quality health care and lower education levels are creating "highly variable" outcomes in what is generally a 25-year decline in cancer death rates, Otis Brawley, the American Cancer Society's chief medical officer, tells Axios.

QuoteThe college-educated American has a death rate from cancer that's far lower than that of the non-college educated American.
— Otis Brawley

What's new: Brawley, speaking to Axios about ACS' blueprint to reduce cancer rates by 2035 (they issued part 1 of 6 on Tuesday), said he had been aware of the long, ongoing issue of health disparities, but was struck by actual percentages.

By the numbers: Per ACS, if the death rate for people with at least a bachelor's degree were applied to everyone, there would be the following mortality decreases:

  • 59% in lung cancer
  • 32% in colorectal cancer
  • 19% in pancreatic cancer
  • 50% in liver cancer

The big picture: If all Americans had the same quality of care and the same levels of cancer risks that college graduates do, more than 150,000 of the estimated 610,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2018 might not occur, Brawley said.

Go deeper: Read ACS' report.