Cancer Resulted in More than 4 Million Potential Years of Life Lost in 2017, Study Finds

Deaths from cancer accounted for more than 4 million potential years of life lost (PYLL) in 2017, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Researchers used national mortality data from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, coupled with a commonly used definition of PYLL as the number of years lost prior to age 75, to quantify how many years of life were prematurely lost.

According to the results, PYLL mirrored overall U.S. cancer mortality trends. For example, lung cancer, the cancer type that causes the largest number of deaths, accounted for approximately 24.3 percent of U.S. cancer deaths and 20.8 percent of PYLL. Colon/rectum cancer accounted for 8.8 percent of deaths and 9.6 percent of PYLL. Pancreatic cancer accounted for 7.3 percent of deaths and 6.6 percent of PYLL, while breast cancer accounted for 7.1 percent of deaths and 9.4 percent of PYLL.

One exception to this pattern was prostate cancer, which causes about 5.1 percent of U.S. cancer deaths but only 2 percent of PYLL. “Many of the deaths caused by this cancer occurred at older ages, resulting in fewer PYLL,” said Minkyo Song, MD, PhD, a research fellow at the National Cancer institute via a press release.


“PYLL is a useful ‘complementary measure’ to cancer mortality rates. Together, they provide a more detailed picture of the social and economic toll of cancer. PYLL can be used to estimate the impact of cancer death in younger populations. This metric highlights the enormous loss of life due to certain cancers that occur at younger ages, even if they occur infrequently.”