A study published online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has found that those who pursue education beyond high school have a decreased risk of dying from cancer.
Headed by Jessica Albano of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, researchers used data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and 2001 death certificates to find associations between the cancer mortality rate and education level. 137,708 death certificates were studied, and included deaths from lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. The study also took race into account, comparing the mortality rates among black and white men and women.
As education levels increased among the study subjects, their risk of dying from cancer decreased. Further, education level was generally indicated to have a more profound effect on mortality rates than race. Although blacks at all education levels posess a higher cancer mortality rate than their white counterparts, the study found that education was a greater factor in their survival, especially when concerning lung and colorectal cancer. Among black and white men with the lowest levels of education (zero to eight years) the general mortality rate was nearly identical.
A shortcoming of the study is its limited resources. The researchers were not able to take into account a variety of other risk factors using only death certificates and the census data.
“A number of factors could influence the association between education level and cancer death rate,” the authors wrote. “. . . including access to medical care associated with lack of health insurance . . . cigarette smoking and obesity and the likelihood of cancer screening utilization. The contribution of these factors . . . could not be assessed because information about these factors is not available on death certificates.”
The reseachers most “novel” findings concerned black men and prostate cancer. The studies showed that black men with a high school diploma or less education were twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than those with more than 12 years of schooling. No other national study has been done on the subject.
Lung cancer mortality rates had the most variation among the cancers studied, with white men found to have the most disparity. White men with less than an eighth grade education were nine times more likely to die of the cancer than those with bachelor’s or professional degrees.
While cancer mortality rates and education were shown to have a consistently strong inverse correlation, one inconsistency among the findings concerned the death rates among black women. Education appeared to have no bearing on cancer mortality rates and black women possessing education beyond a high school diploma were the most likely to die of breast cancer.