Avoidable Colorectal Cancer Deaths Hit Low Socioeconomic Areas Hardest

December 4, 2015
Kelly Johnson

Disparities in colorectal cancer deaths have had a significant impact on the national economy, with areas of low socioeconomic status experiencing the greatest losses, according to a study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hannah K. Weir, PhD

Disparities in colorectal cancer deaths have had a significant impact on the national economy, with areas of low socioeconomic status experiencing the greatest losses, according to a study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Avoidable colorectal cancer (CRC) deaths account for about $6.4 billion in lost productivity—$4.2 billion in men and $2.2 billion in women—including wages, salaries, and financial contributions to family care. The figures do not consider cost of diagnosis, treatment, or care.

“A substantial number of colorectal cancer deaths are potentially preventable through routine colorectal screening,” lead investigator Hannah K. Weir, PhD, senior epidemiologist with the CDC, said in a statement. “We found that many of those preventable deaths are in lower socioeconomic status communities, and cancer puts a huge economic burden on those communities.”

For the study, reported at a recent meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research focused on cancer health disparities, researchers looked at data on CRC deaths from 2008 to 2012 and with a focus on patients aged 50 to 74. Areas with higher socioeconomic status (SES) were defined as those where at least 85% of the population had graduated from high school; all other areas were considered lower SES.

Risk of dying from CRC was inversely associated socioeconomic status among whites, African Americans, and Hispanics.

After applying the mortality rate of higher SES communities to lower SES communities, the study found that of the 85,484 colorectal cancer deaths, 16.8% (n = 14,398) in the lower SES communities were potentially preventable.

Investigators calculated the number of excess deaths between 2008 and 2012 and determined that 194,927 years of potential life were lost in lower SES communities, and 128,812 years of potential life were lost in higher SES areas.

“Those are years in which these people would have been contributing to the financial welfare of their family and their community,” Weir said.

Previously, CRC disproportionately affected patients with higher socioeconomic status, but as routine screening methods and awareness increased over the past few decades, the disparities have reversed.

“Higher SES groups have better access to care, and have fewer barriers including being unable to take time off work,” Weir said.

Because education level among populations is what the researchers used to define socioeconomic status, they concluded that their findings indicate that eliminating educational disparities in lower SES communities could increase awareness and decrease preventable CRC deaths and the associated economic losses.

Weir HK, Li C, Henley J, et al. Estimating potential years of life lost and productivity lost due to avoidable premature colorectal cancer deaths in US counties with lower educational attainment. Presented at: AACR conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved; Nov. 13-16, 2015; Atlanta, GA.