U.S. cancer mortality rates reflect changing socioeconomic patterns

A new study reveals that there were higher U.S. male cancer mortality rates in the 1950s and 1960s among men living in high socioeconomic areas compared with men living in low socioeconomic areas. However, by the 1980s and 1990s, this situation had reversed, and men in low socioeconomic areas began experiencing higher cancer mortality rates than men in high socioeconomic areas.

This reversal largely reflected a faster increase in cancer mortality among men in low socioeconomic areas compared with men in high socioeconomic areas, researchers explain in the June 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Europeans have long used socioeconomic data along with mortality rates to identify and monitor health disparities. In the United States, however, cancer mortality rates have not been calculated for different socioeconomic groups, partly because information such as income is not recorded on the death certificate.

To get around this problem, Gopal K. Singh, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, and his colleagues divided all U.S. counties into five socioeconomic categories and linked that information to county mortality data. The socioeconomic categories were based on factors such as education, occupation, median family income, unemployment rate, family poverty rate, and housing condition.

The authors found that between 1950 and 1960, male cancer mortality was nearly 50% greater in the highest area socioeconomic group than in the lowest area socioeconomic group. However, this gap narrowed in the 1970s, and began to reverse in the late 1980s. By 1998, cancer mortality was 19% higher in the lowest area socioeconomic group than in the highest area socioeconomic group. Similarly, substantial changes in area socioeconomic patterns in cancer mortality were seen in women during that period.

The authors note that the socioeconomic patterns in male cancer mortality trends are consistent with socioeconomic patterns in c

Contact: Linda Wang
Journal of the National Cancer Institute

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