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Death rates alone do not give a complete picture of the burden that deaths impose on the population. Another useful measure, which adds a different dimension, is person-years of life lost (PYLL)—the years of life lost due to early death from a particular cause or disease. PYLL due to cancer helps to describe the extent to which life is cut short by cancer. On average, each person who dies from cancer loses an estimated 15.5 years of life.
PYLL due to a particular disease or cause: The difference between the actual age of death due to the disease/cause and the expected age of death. Specifically, this measure is estimated by linking life table data to each death of a person of given age and sex. The life table permits a determination of the number of additional years an average person of that age, race, and sex would have been expected to live.
In 2005, cancer deaths were responsible for nearly 8.8 million PYLL. This is more than heart disease or any other cause of death.
Also in 2005, lung cancer accounted for over 2.4 million PYLL, the most by far for any cancer. In contrast, prostate cancer, which primarily affects older men, accounted for approximately 274,000 PYLL.
There is no Healthy People 2010 target for this measure.
Cancers that are both common and associated with poor survival are responsible for the most PYLL. Breast and colorectal cancers are also common cancers that strike people at a relatively young age and cause many years of life lost. Deaths from childhood cancers, which are uncommon, lead to the most years of life lost for the individual, but contribute only a small percentage to total PYLL.
The greatest impact on reducing the number of years lost to cancer will come from progress against common cancers—especially lung, breast, and colorectal cancers—as well as new scientific breakthroughs for cancers where the prognosis is poor (e.g., pancreatic cancer).