Mouth and throat cancer have been making news lately because of their link to HPV. Now there's evidence that patients' level of education could affect their risk of dying from these diseases.
According to Futurity.org, scientists have found that between 1993 and 2007, mortality rates for mouth and throat cancer decreased significantly. However, when researchers broke these results down by education level, they discovered that the decrease only applied to black people who'd graduated from high school, and white people who'd completed at least some college. Among white men, for instance, mortality rates from head and neck cancers have been flat since 1999. But white guys with more than 12 years of schooling have seen a decreased risk of death in that time period; for white men with less than 12 years, the mortality rate has actually increased.
The researchers say "this difference in mortality trends may reflect the changing prevalence of smoking and sexual behaviors among populations of different educational attainment." Because many mouth and throat cancers are caused by HPV, doctors hypothesize that they're spread by oral sex. However, it's somewhat difficult to imagine that oral is becoming less popular among college students. It's possible that more are using protection, but it seems more likely that decreases among folks with more education are caused by decreases in smoking, and by better screening and treatment. Study author Dr. Amy Chen points out that people with more education are more likely to have insurance and to get regular physicals, meaning they're able to catch and treat cancer earlier. So while the link between education and reduced oral cancer risk could be an unusual incentive for staying in school, it's more compelling as an argument for affordable and accessible healthcare for all.
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