Men in poorer areas of U.S. more likely to die from cancer, study says

Wednesday, June 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Cancer death rates among men were larger in less affluent U.S. counties during the 1990s, a study shows.

That's a reversal from the 1950s, when the rates were nearly 50 percent higher in socially advantaged counties.

Researchers said the trend matches the socioeconomic patterns of cigarette smoking. For instance, in 1999, the smoking rate among people with less than a high school degree _ who are generally less affluent _ was 36.2 percent, while among those with a college degree _ generally the wealthier segment of the population _ the smoking rate was 11.8 percent.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, divided counties into five groups based on the socioeconomic level of their residents. The socioeconomic levels were based on 15 indicators, including education, median family income and home value.

Between 1950 and 1960, the researchers found that the male cancer death rate was about 50 percent greater in the counties with the highest socioeconomic levels than in counties at the lowest levels.

The gap between the groups narrowed in the 1970s. By 1998, the cancer mortality rates were 19 percent higher in the lowest socioeconomic counties than in the highest counties.

``Given the latency period between the start of regular smoking and cancer death, we should expect socioeconomic disparities in male cancer mortality to continue to widen in the near future,'' the researchers said in the study.

Smoking is thought to be the major cause of lung cancer and is linked to a number of other cancers.

A second study that focused on male lung cancer mortality found a similar trend. The death rate from lung cancer among men age 25-64 in 1950 was twice as high in counties at the top of the socioeconomic scale than in counties at the bottom.

By 1998, the pattern reversed, with lung cancer death rates 56 percent higher for men 25-64 in the lower socioeconomic areas. For men 65 or older, the lung cancer mortality rates were 38 percent greater in the lowest group, the study found.

The studies were compiled by a group of researchers at the National Cancer Institute led by Gopal K. Singh.