What is your cancer risk?
Last updated 2/4/2021 at 11:34am
An important part of cancer prevention is knowing your personal level of risk. While there is no way to tell with absolute certainty whether you will develop cancer, doctors do know that age, gender, race and ethnicity are useful in gauging the level of risk each patient faces. Individuals who are at higher risk based on their demographics should increase the frequency of their cancer screenings.
Increasing age is the most important risk factor for cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. The majority of new cancer cases strike older adults; in fact, about half of all new cancer cases are found in individuals between the ages of 55 and 74. Cancer is relatively rare for young people; only 3.7% of new cancer cases are diagnosed in people younger than age 35. The types of cancers that tend to strike young people are different from those who strike elderly people. For example, bone cancer, leukemia and neuroblastomas are more common in children and young adults than in older adults. While cancer diagnoses are less common among younger people, cancer can certainly strike at any age. Young people, however, tend to be diagnosed with different types of cancer than those who are older. People under 20 years-old are most commonly diagnosed with cancers such as bone cancer and leukemia.
Cancer incidence, or the number of new cancers diagnosed per year, is substantially higher for men than it is for women. Specifically, the incidence rate for men is 502.0 per 100,000 persons, while it is 420.6 per 100,000 persons for women. This overall gender difference holds true for all types of cancer and for people of all racial and ethnic groups. For example, cancer of the lung or bronchus is the second-most common type of cancer for both men and women, falling behind breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men. The lung or bronchus incidence rate for men, however, is 73.2 cases per 100,000 people, while for women it is 53.3 cases per 100,000 people. Similarly, cancer of the colon and rectum is the third most common type of cancer for both men and women, but men's incidence rates are 46.5 cases per 100,000 people, while women have an incidence rate of 35.2 cases per 100,000 people. Men are not only more likely to be diagnosed with these types of cancer, but they are also more likely to die from cancer. Specifically, the mortality rate for lung or bronchus cancer is 53.8 deaths per 100,000 for men, but only 35.4 deaths per 100,000 for women. Similarly, men are more likely to die from cancer of the colon and rectum than their female counterparts; 17.3 deaths per 100,000 versus 12.2 deaths per 100,000, respectively.
Race and ethnicity
Black men and women have the highest overall cancer incidence rates, meaning they are more commonly diagnosed with cancer than individuals of other racial groups. Specifically, there are approximately 467.5 new cancer cases per 100,000 for black people. Asians and Pacific Islanders have the lowest rates of cancer incidence overall with 299.1 cases per 100,000 people. Black men and Black women also have the highest cancer death rates of any racial group at 189.9 deaths per 100,000 people, while once again, Asians and Pacific Islanders have low
mortality rates at 101.3 deaths per 100,000. Hispanic people are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer and less likely to die from cancer. That is, their incidence rate is significantly lower than it is for non-Hispanics at 356.2 cases per 100,000 versus 465.7 cases per 100,000, respectively, as is their mortality rate, which is 167.7 deaths per 100,000 versus 114.6 deaths per 100,000, respectively. Thus, when discussing cancer, the term "people of color" is not a useful grouping, because some people of color fall into the highest risk brackets, while others fall into the very lowest risk brackets.
Variables like age, gender, race and ethnicity are things you can't control. But they do help to identify the potential need for screening. So, if you are a Black male over the age of 55, you need to be especially vigilant, while a young Asian or Pacific Islander female would not need to worry as much. Overall, everyone should receive regular check-ups and screening as recommended by their primary care provider.