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Br J Cancer. 2010 Sep 28;103(7):1109-14. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6605861. Epub 2010 Aug 17.

Education, survival and avoidable deaths in cancer patients in Finland.

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Finnish Cancer Registry, Institute for Statistical and Epidemiological Cancer Research, Pieni Roobertinkatu 9, FI-00130, Helsinki, Finland.



Relative survival after cancer in Finland is at the highest level observed in Europe and has, in general, been on a steady increase. The aim of this study is to assess whether the high survival is equally shared by different population subgroups and to estimate the possible gains that might be achieved if equity prevailed.


The educational level and occupation before the cancer diagnosis of patients diagnosed in Finland in 1971-2005 was derived from an antecedent population census. The cancers were divided into 27 site categories. Cancer (cause)-specific 5-year survival proportions were calculated for three patient categories based on the educational level and for an occupational group of potentially health-conscious patients (physicians, nurses, teachers etc.). Proportions of avoidable deaths were derived by assuming that the patients from the two lower education categories would have the same mortality owing to cancer, as those from the highest educational category. Estimates were also made by additionally assuming that even the mortalities owing to other causes of death were all equal to those in the highest category.


For almost all the sites considered, survival was consistently highest for patients with the highest education and lowest for those with only basic education. The potentially health-conscious patients had an even higher survival. The differences were, in part, attributable to less favourable distributions of tumour stages in the lower education categories. In 1996-2005, 4-7% of the deaths in Finnish cancer patients could have potentially been avoided during the first 5-year period after diagnosis, if all the patients had the same cancer mortality as the patients with the highest educational background. The proportion would have also been much higher, 8-11%, if, in addition, the mortality from other causes had been the same as that in the highest educational category.


Even in a potentially equitable society with high health care standards, marked inequalities persist in cancer survival. Earlier cancer diagnosis and the ability to cope within the health care system may be a partly relevant explanation, but personal habits and lifestyles also have a role, particularly for the cancer patients' mortality from other causes of death than cancer.

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