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Premature years of life lost due to cancer in the United States in 2017

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Background: Burden of cancer mortality is often measured by death counts or mortality rates, but potential years of life lost (PYLL) and PYLL per death may be more useful to estimate the impact of cancer-related deaths occurring at younger ages. Methods: We used U.S. national death certificate data. A total of 45 categories of common cancers were grouped for cancer-specific calculations of PYLL and PYLL per death. PYLL was defined as the sum of the total years of life lost prior to age 75 years. Results: The largest number of PYLL in 2017 was due to deaths from cancers of the lung/bronchus (891,313; 20.8%), colon/rectum (409,538; 9.6%), and breast (400,643; 9.4%). Cancers with the highest PYLLs generally also caused the largest number of deaths and had the highest mortality rates, with the exception of prostate cancer (5.1% of deaths, 2.0% of PYLL). In contrast, PYLLs per death were greatest for deaths due to cancers of testis (mean = 34.0 years), bones/joints (26.4), and other endocrine sites including thymus (25.2). Conclusions: Although PYLLs generally reflect mortality rates, they more heavily weigh cancers that occur at younger ages. In contrast, PYLL per death, which is an average quantification of life years lost for individual patients with cancer, shows a different pattern. Impact: Mortality rates, PYLL, and PYLL per death are complementary measures of the burden of deaths due to cancer that should be considered in tandem to prioritize public health interventions focused on preventing premature mortality.




Song, M., Hildesheim, A., & Shiels, M. S. (2020). Premature years of life lost due to cancer in the United States in 2017. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 29(12), 2591–2598.

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