Friday, May 31, 2013

What If We Eliminated Cancer?

How much longer would Americans live if cancer were eliminated as a cause of death? That calculation has been done by the National Center for Health Statistics, and it has determined that the elimination of cancer would add 3.2 years to the average person's life expectancy at birth. Those who would have died of cancer would gain an additional 14.6 years of life expectancy at birth.

By eliminating certain causes of death from life expectancy calculations, the National Center for Health Statistics has revealed how much time each killer steals from us. Starting with 1999-2001 mortality rates by age and cause of death, the NCHS painstakingly calculated how much longer we would live if we eliminated 33 different causes of death—from heart disease to motor vehicle accidents, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and even the flu.

For the average person, the biggest life expectancy gain occurs when a major cause of death is eliminated--such as cancer or heart disease. If no one died of heart disease (the number-one killer), life expectancy at birth would increase by 3.7 years. Among those who would have died of heart disease, life expectancy at birth would rise by 11.8 years. The 11.8 year gain from eliminating heart disease is less than the 14.6 year gain from eliminating cancer because those who die of cancer are typically younger than those who die of heart disease, thus losing more time.

For people who would have died of a certain disease, the biggest gains in life expectancy at birth come from eliminating causes of death that typically strike younger adults. Eliminating HIV, for example, would add 34.7 years to life expectancy at birth for those the disease would have killed. Eliminating motor vehicle accidents would add 35.5 years to life expectancy for those who would have died in an accident. Eliminating homicide as a cause of death would add 44.1 years to the life expectancy of murder victims.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, United States Life Tables Eliminating Certain Causes of Death, 1999-2001

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