Report: Cancer Risk Higher Among Uneducated Americans

Posted on Aug 26, 2011 in Cancer

By Alex Murashko

Higher education appears to be a game changer when it comes to cancer, according to an American Cancer Society report released Friday.

The report shows that the gap in cancer death rates between college grads and those who only went to high school is widening.

Cancer death rates for those who didn’t finish high school are almost three times higher than those of college graduates. The gap was especially wide for lung cancer, but it was also markedly large for breast, colon, and prostate cancer. For lung cancer, the death rate was five times higher among the least educated Americans than the most educated.

Researchers concluded that closing the education-socioeconomic gap would have prevented about 60,000 premature cancer deaths in 2007 alone in people ages 25-64.

ACS Vice President of Surveillance Research Ahmedin Jemal told WebMD that higher smoking and obesity rates among lower income Americans combined with less access to medical services largely explains the disparity.

The report states that one in five U.S. adults now smokes, but the rate is more than twice as high for people without high school diplomas. In contrast, the smoking rate is less than half the national average for college graduates.

There is also a health insurance gap. While 70 percent of insured women get regular mammograms, only about 35 percent of uninsured women get the test, Jemal said.

“We found that almost 37 percent of cancer deaths could have been avoided in 2007 alone if everyone experienced the same death rate as Americans with higher education status,” Jemal said.

Cancer isn’t the only disease that appears to increase in frequency among the less educated. Researchers at Tufts Medical Center in Boston reported that high school dropouts were three times more likely than college grads to suffer heart attacks, The Los Angeles Times reported. Even after the researchers adjusted for smoking, exercise and other lifestyle factors that could threaten the heart, a lack of education still seemed to increase the risk of a heart attack by about 60 percent.