More education may mean lower chance for cancer-related death

By Brittany Abeijon

Higher education reduces the risk of dying from cancer up to 76 percent for black and white races, according to a new study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers analyzed data separately by race and sex groups and adjusted for age in their analyses.

The studies found that effects were difficult to measure because levels of education both reflect and affect income; health insurance coverage, early detection of cancer and medical care, occupational choices, all influence mortality, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“A study like this provides clues to identify factors that may directly prevent cancer,” said Karin Rosenblatt, cancer epidemiologist and associate professor of kinesiology and community health.

In particular, the study found that mortality rates for lung cancer were much higher in less-educated men than in more-educated men, regardless of race, but the differences were less extreme in women.

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“There are probably about 200 kinds of cancer,” Rosenblatt said. “Many of which have different causes, so it may be hard to prevent all cancers.”

Jeff Woods, associate professor of kinesiology and community health, does not think it is fair to claim education prevents dying from cancer, but he said there is a correlation.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean if you go to college you are more likely to prevent cancer,” Woods said. “(But) making more money translates into better health care coverage, earlier detection of cancer and better treatment.”

Woods said environment explains a lot in terms of cancer prevalence.

“In the old days, it used to be that if you prevented asbestos exposure, you reduced the risk for cancer. Or if you prevented smoking, you reduced the risk,” Woods said. “You can’t be totally risk-free, but lots of cancers are preventable.”

Surviving or living without cancer is not the main motivation to obtain a college education, but making more money and having a career is, Woods said.

“People may, through education, learn what is healthy and adopt healthy behaviors; the likelihood is going to better,” he said.

The study separates genders, as well as races. It bases research on statistics of white and black people, because the authors of the study said other races were unreliable from death certificates.

“Asian and Hispanic women are more likely to die from breast cancer,” said Pavithra Nagarajan, senior in LAS and vice president of the University chapter of Colleges Against Cancer. “As an advocate for cancer research, I would hope they have that information.”

Nagarajan said it is not necessarily about how a college degree can lower your risk, but it is about educating yourself.

“Some college kids may not be aware that it’s completely true that people can get cancer at our age,” she said. “As long as people know, they can diminish the effect of cancer in their daily lives and hopefully in the nation as a whole.”