Where prostate cancer stacks up as a cause of death

The other day we noticed yet another newspaper article with the headline, “No. 2 cause of death in men can be fought.” The article implied that more men in America die of prostate cancer than of any other cause except heart disease. This is simply not true.

It is true, however, that cancer (i.e., deaths from all cancers) is the now the second leading cause of death of men in America today (or at least, in 2007, which is the most recent year for which we have fully compiled and statistically evaluated data). It is also true that prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-specific deaths in American men (with lung cancer coming in at no. 1).

We thought it might be helpful if we provided readers with a table showing how prostate cancer stacks up against other causes of death for men in America, based on the 2007 data. So here it is:

So what this actually tells us is that out of the top 17 causes of death of men in the USA in 2007, prostate cancer was actually the no. 14 cause of death when evaluated on its own. On average, a man diagnosed with prostate cancer today is still about 20 times more likely to die of heart disease than he is of his prostate cancer. So even if you have just been diagnosed with prostate cancer, remember that what you do to look after the condition of your heart is much more likely to affect your longevity than what you do to manage your prostate cancer.

It is also worth noting that prostate cancer is the only major form of cancer that has a median 5-year survival rate of 100 percent, regardless of stage at diagnosis (although in African Americans the 5-year survival rate is only 97 percent for men who are diagnosed with distant metastases).

Where did we source all this data?

It is all available in an article by Jemal et al. published last year in Ca — A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, although we did also check all of the non-cancer data by looking at the article by Xu et al. in National Vital Statistics Reports. Data are not available in either of these articles for the age-adjusted mortality rates for lung and prostate cancer in 2007.

6 Responses

  1. Being the glass half empty guy that I am, what this tells me is that no matter what, I am going to die of something. But if I were a guy with a glass half full I see a lot of things on the list that I can attempt to control. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Mike,

    Although I have been avoiding dying from prostate cancer for the last 19 years, I still have to explain that living with prostate cancer for all these years was not as easy as a walk in the park.

    True that after treatment my cancer has not progressed (which is good), but the side effects of my treatment as years have gone by has taken its toll. Mind you, I recognize that the alternative had to be worse, but still this has not been easy or readily shared.

    It is unfortunate that articles like the one you mention depart from reality. On the other hand reality is that every 18 minutes of every day one man dies of prostate cancer in this country. Many unnecessarily. Worse, many of us live with prostate cancer. I find that very little is said about the symptoms of untreated prostate cancer progression while invariably we hear about the harms of treatment. Why is this truth such a well-guarded secret? Is metastatic progression and invasion of the skeleton or vital organs a non-event in our lives? Is this process without symptoms? Little is said about those that have the experience. Other comorbidities take precedence and the natural history of untreated prostate cancer continues to be ignored.

    Thanks for fighting misinformation about prostate cancer. More of that is needed.

  3. Chris: And despite being very much a “glass half full guy” I can assure you that about 60-odd years ago I was already well aware that my mortality was limited.


  4. Thank you Sitemaster for continuing your work in keeping the threats to the health and survival of prostate cancer patients in perspective. It’s very clear from the chart that threats to heart health and even the flu far outrank the threat from prostate cancer, though that cause of death is obviously also important in the overall picture.

    I think it helps when newly diagnosed patients and their loved ones come to realize that low- and intermediate-risk prostate cancer patients are at no increased risk of death from prostate cancer within the first 10 years of diagnosis! (That’s based on the 2004 paper by Brenner and Arndt.)

    Even us high-risk guys have a 95% likelihood of survival at the 10-year point! (Based on the 2008 paper by Boorjian et al.)

  5. I have recently been diagnosed with very early stage prostate cancer and underwent two biopsies and also the Onoctype DX test confirming low-risk and contained type cancer. My urologist continues to suggest surgery and I am leaning toward the active surveillance. Not sure how to proceed. I am getting a second opinion and searching for survival rates for specific age categories. Can anyone advise? Thanks so much,

  6. Dear Mark:

    The Devil is very much “in the details” and I am not aware of any really meaningful age-related survival data because so much depends on multiple details and very few patients have been closely followed on active surveillance (or any other form of expectant management) for more than about 12 years.

    I would recommend that you join our social network, where we can discuss those details and offer some suggestions about how to move forward. Specifically, it would help us if, when you joined the social network, you could also tell us all of the following: your age, your clinical stage, your PSA level, your Gleason score, the total number of biopsy cores that were taken at each biopsy; the number of cores that were positive at each biopsy; and your Oncotype DX score. If you also know things like your PSA density and the percentage of each core that was positive for cancer, those are also helpful.

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