Disparities in cancer mortality rates between black and white Americans date back more than 60 years. Now, a study by the American Cancer Society comparing person-years of life lost and lost earnings due to premature cancer mortality by race/ethnicity has quantified the economic burden due to premature cancer mortality. Researchers found that $3.2 billion in lost earnings would have been avoided if non-Hispanic blacks had equal years of life lost from cancer deaths and lost earning rates as non-Hispanic whites. Improving equal access to effective cancer prevention, screening, and treatment will be important in reducing the disproportional economic burden associated with racial/ethnic disparities, concluded the study authors. The study was published by Zhao et al in JNCI Cancer Spectrum.
The researchers calculated person-years of life lost using national cancer death and life expectancy data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics for the year 2015. Person-years of life lost were combined with annual median earnings to generate lost earnings. They then compared person-years of life lost and lost earnings among individuals who died at age 16 to 84 due to cancer by racial/ethnic group, including non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander, and Hispanic.
Median earnings and employment rates in 2015 by age, sex, employment status, and race/ethnicity were derived retrospectively from the United States Census Bureau’s 2016 Current Population Survey’s March Annual Social and Economic Supplement.
The researchers found that, in 2015, person-years of life lost due to all premature cancer deaths were 6,512,810 for non-Hispanic whites; 1,196,709 for non-Hispanic blacks; 279,721 for Asian or Pacific Islanders; and 665,968 for Hispanics, translating to age-standardized lost earning rates (per 100,000 person-years) of $34.9 million, $43.5 million, $22.2 million, and $24.5 million, respectively. Non-Hispanic blacks had higher age-standardized person-years of life lost and lost earning rates than non-Hispanic whites for 13 out of 19 selected cancer sites. If age-specific person-years of life lost and lost earning rates for non-Hispanic blacks were the same as those of non-Hispanic whites, 241,334 person-years of life lost and $3.2 billion lost earnings (representing 22% of the total among non-Hispanic blacks) would have been avoided. Disparities were also observed for average person-years of life lost and lost earnings per cancer death for all cancers combined and for 13 out of 19 selected cancer sites. The major cancer types included colorectal, female breast, and lung.
Reducing Racial Disparities in Cancer Deaths
“This study highlighted the substantial racial/ethnic disparities in person-years of life lost and the associated lost earnings due to premature cancer deaths in the United States. The burden of many of these cancers could be reduced through improving access to effective, high-quality, and targeted cancer prevention, screening, and treatment for these vulnerable populations. Broad, equitable application of strategies to address these issues will be essential for reducing the economic burden associated with racial/ethnic cancer disparities,” concluded the study authors.
Jingxuan Zhao, MPH, of the American Cancer Society, is the corresponding author of this study.
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit academic.oup.com.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.