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Cancer Deaths in the U.S. Resulted in Over Four Million Potential Years of Life Lost in 2017

Map of the United States of America overlayed with a magnifying glass

In a study of U.S. national death certificate data from 2017, investigators estimated nearly 600,000 cancer deaths resulted in over four million potential years of life lost (PYLL) among people who died before reaching the age of 75. These findings were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in November 2020,.

The annual number of cancer deaths or mortality rates may not adequately account for the impact of premature deaths caused by cancer. PYLL addresses this gap by measuring the number of years a person would have been expected to live if they had not died prematurely.

Minkyo Song, Ph.D., research fellow in the Infections and Immunoepidemiology Branch, and colleagues found that lung cancer deaths contributed the largest number of PYLL overall, followed by colorectal and breast cancer. As expected, malignancies with the highest PYLL generally coincided with those that caused the largest number of deaths and had the highest mortality rates, with the exception of prostate cancer—a disease that typically causes death at older ages, resulting in relatively fewer PYLL. 

In contrast, estimating PYLL per death, the average potential years of life lost per cancer death, showed a different pattern. The greatest number of PYLL per death were from malignancies that occur at younger ages: cancers of the testis, bones/joints, and other endocrine sites, including the thymus gland.

Estimates of PYLL and PYLL per death may help identify areas for intervention and prevention in younger populations. Future research is needed to determine PYLL and PYLL per death for cancer subtypes and to understand differences and disparities across sex, racial/ethnic groups, or over time.

Reference:
Song M, et al. “Premature Years of Life Lost Due to Cancer in the United States in 2017.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. November 2020. DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-20-0782. [Epub ahead of print].
 

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