After Natasha Richardson’s tragic death from a brain hemorrhage caused by an apparently minor spill while skiing, we’re all extra worried about a bump on the head these days.
Actually, the risk of dying that way is pretty small, though if you’re under forty, you may be surprised to learn that you’re more likely to perish in some kind of accident than from the big killer diseases like heart disease and most types of cancer.
So what should you beware of? A set of risk charts published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute last year sheds some new light because what’s expressed is not lifetime risk—who really cares what they’re going to die of at eighty-five—but your risk of dying within the next ten years. That’ll get your attention.
Most of us have heard that one in eight women will die of breast cancer, but that’s a lifetime stat. If you’re thirty, what you want to know is this: What are my odds right now? These charts will tell you, by age and gender. Smokers and non-smokers are separated, offering a compelling argument to slap on a nicotine patch.
Here are some highlights. If you’re thirty and don’t smoke, the big risks are AIDS and accidents. You’re twice as likely to succumb to either of these causes than to breast cancer (1 in 50 for either AIDS or accidents versus 1 in 100 for breast cancer). The other diseases surveyed—heart attack, stroke, colon cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, pneumonia, and influenza—loom large later in life, but cause fewer than a single death per hundred among women your age.
Factor in a cigarette habit and the picture changes. Not surprisingly, the risk of dying from AIDS or an accident remains the same, but heart attack, stroke, and lung cancer all clock in with one death per thousand. Overall, you’re nearly twice as likely to die in the next ten years. Whether you smoke or not, you’re healthier than your honey: The risk of death from all causes is higher for men in every ten-year period.
Knowing your real risks is a great incentive to practice lifestyle habits that will help you stay healthy. You can download the charts without charge at the JNCI web site.