Study: Measuring life-years lost could provide better assessment of mortality trends

Assessing the years of life lost due to a disease, as opposed to the amount of deaths, may be a more effective strategy to analyze long term mortality trends, according to a Cleveland Clinic study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

For the study, researchers calculated the years of life lost for the top 15 causes of death in the U.S. from 1995 to 2015. Researchers reviewed more than 2 million death certificates for each year of the study period to determine the life-years lost and compared this figure to the number of deaths for each disease.

While the study revealed heart disease to be the leading cause of death overall, illnesses like cancer resulted in more life-years lost. Heart disease caused 6 percent more deaths in 2015 than cancer, but cancer caused 23 percent more life-years lost.

Improved treatment and prevention methods have led to a 42 percent reduction in life-years lost from heart attacks since 1995. However, life-years lost to cancer increased 16 percent during the study period, largely due to an aging population.

"Focusing on life-years provides perspective on the societal burden of disease and highlights the disparities in disease burden," said lead author Glen Taksler, PhD, a Cleveland Clinic researcher. "Reordering mortality by life-years lost paints a more complete picture of changing mortality and its distribution across various populations."

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