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Education, Socioeconomic Status, and Race Affect Cancer Prevention Behaviors

Even though overall cancer death rates have dropped in the United States, a recent review of the prevalence of lifestyle cancer risk factors revealed that there are huge socioeconomic and racial disparities in major risk factors that, if eliminated, could further accelerate the drop in cancer deaths.

Several modifiable lifestyle factors, such as tobacco smoking, excess body weight, high alcohol intake, poor diet, lack of physical activity, ultraviolet radiation exposure, and lack of cancer screening all influence an individual's chance of developing cancer. According to this review, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, racial minority individuals of a lower socioeconomic background and lower education level are more likely to engage in these behaviors.

For example, males without a high school education are six times more likely to smoke compared with female college graduates. Almost half of women without a college degree are obese, compared with one third of those who have college degrees. Over 50% of black and Hispanic women are obese, 38% of white women are obese, and 15% of Asian women are obese. Important preventive screening is also less prevalent in racial minorities with less education: screening of breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers occur 20% to 30% less among those with less than a high school education compared with college graduates. Hispanic, Asian, and Native American/Alaska Native individuals also report less cancer screening than do white and black individuals.

"Reducing these modifiable cancer risk factors and improving cancer screening will require broad implementation of national, state, and local policies, social/community efforts, as well as individual behavioral interventions. Such systematic efforts should be enhanced across all populations, particularly those most at risk, including those with lower [socioeconomic status] and racial/ethnic minorities," the study authors conclude.

Further studies need to be conducted to develop an effective intervention to stop these behaviors for the populations at risk.

For More Information

Sauer AG, Siegel RL, Jemal A & Fedewa SA (2019). Current prevalence of major cancer risk factors and screening test use in the United States: disparities by education and race/ethnicity. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 28(4):627. DOI:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-18-1169 

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