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Study Shows Connection Between Socioeconomic Status and Cancer

Erik Neumann
The Huntsman Cancer Institute

New research released on Thursday by the University of Utah sheds light on the connections between socioeconomic status and cancer. And the results are not what you might expect.

When you're born, how wealthy your family is, the type of education they have, and what kind of neighborhood you grew up in, could determine how much you're at risk for cancer as an adult. That's according to new research from the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The study, published in the journal, Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention studied Utah residents in Salt Lake and Weber Counties. Heidi Hanson is one of the authors of the paper. She and the other researchers looked at anonymous individuals' families when they were young.

"When individuals file a birth certificate, they put the parent's occupation industry on that. So it combines the average income for that occupation and the education level for that occupation," Hanson said.

Then, using Census information, "we're able to take a Census tract and we're able to geolocate individuals."

Finally, they compared that data with how likely the same individual was to have cancer as an adult.

It's rare to be able to study individuals over a lifetime. The researchers found that some cancers - breast, melanoma, and prostate - were higher for individuals from high socioeconomic status, while cervical cancer affected more women from low socioeconomic status. The specific reasons why these trends occur aren't yet known. But Hanson emphasized that the ability to take an in-depth look is important.

"To understand cancer, we need to not only look at disease risk at the time an individual is diagnosed with cancer, we really need to backdate that to look at their entire life history," she said.

Otherwise, Hanson says, we'll be missing a big part of the story.

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