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Researchers Update Risk-of-Death Charts

Authors hope it will encourage disease/prevention efforts

TUESDAY, June 10, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Regardless of the cause, American men have a greater chance of dying than women, and smoking increases any adult's risk of death just as if five years were suddenly added to their age, according to new risk of death charts.

The charts, to be published in the June 10 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute show an American's risk of dying from a given cause in the next 10 years. The charts are grouped by age, sex and smoking status.

"The risk charts provide two basic elements that people need if they are to make sense of the health threats they face: the magnitude of the risk and some context," the authors wrote. "We hope that the availability of these simple charts will facilitate physician-patient discussion about disease risk and help people understand where to focus risk reduction efforts."

According to the charts:

  • For men who have never smoked, heart disease presents their greatest risk for death at any age, exceeding the odds of dying from lung, colon and prostate cancer combined.
  • Male smokers face a lung cancer risk that is greater than the odds of heart disease taking their lives after age 60, and is tenfold higher than the chance of dying from prostate and colon cancer combined.
  • The chance of dying from heart disease and breast cancer are similar for nonsmoking women until age 60, when heart disease becomes a greater risk.
  • For female smokers, dying from lung cancer or heart disease is more likely than dying from breast cancer after age 40.

Researchers developed the new charts based on the National Center for Health Statistics Multiple Cause of Death Public Use File for 2004. Unlike previous years, the study now includes former smokers in a separate category.

In an accompanying editorial in the journal, researchers discussed how doctors can best use these charts, saying that just posting them in a physician's waiting room may spark a conversation between patients and the care providers.

"The risk estimates provided bring us a step closer to the goal of communicating effectively about risk in the context of routine medical care. The next steps could involve collaboration with other risk communication researchers to personalize this information and deliver it in ways that maximize its impact on health behaviors," the editorialists concluded.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about cancer.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, June 10, 2008
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