Straight Talk about Mesothelioma, a blog series created by Michael T. Milano, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncology specialist, as a resource for mesothelioma patients and their loved ones.

In this technologically and medically advanced era, we are given instant access to the constantly evolving knowledge about our world. We are continuously updated on national and international events, and are likewise informed about the latest medical advances.

As a society that has the world at our fingertips, it’s no wonder that we are constantly seeking the newest and most reliable information. Recently, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has teamed up with medical researchers from Dartmouth College to provide a new and unique tool – “Know Your Chances” – that gives the odds of death for people of all ages.

The health risks are based on statistics. This is a significant instrument in helping us take preventative measures to better our health.

How Is the NCI “Know Your Chances” Tool Different from Other Cancer Assessment Tools?

While there are other cancer-risk assessment tools available to the public, most of these only offer users the risk of developing specific cancers based upon various factors, including lifestyle, medical history, and exposure. For example, these tools tell us that certain factors – a, b, or c – could increase our chance of getting a specific cancer or disease, but doing e, f, or g, could decrease our chances of getting that particular cancer.

But as prevalent and devastating as cancer is, we all know that it’s not the only cause of death. Through the “Know Your Chances” website, NCI provides us with a broader view of the possibility of cancer in relation to other causes of death, including accidents, homicide, and suicide. Rather than solely giving the odds of death due to certain cancers, it aims to put cancer in perspective to other causes of death.

Not only does the new website provide statistics on non-cancer causes of death, it also breaks down our chances of dying over specific time frames by accounting for age, sex, and race. Thus, this information allows us to understand not only the likelihood of our death at a specific age, but also the likely cause of death at that age.

Where Does This Information Come From?

The NCI’s data and estimates for the new “Know Your Chances” tool come from the DevCan statistical algorithms and database. This database calculates the probabilities of developing and dying from particular cancers by taking incidence data from their Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, U.S. census data, and mortality counts from the National Center for Health Statistics. In using this data, NCI is able to provide information in 4 different charts:

  1. Big-picture charts show the risks of dying from preselected causes within a 10-year timeframe based on age, sex, and race.
  2. Custom charts show the risk of death for selected causes over different time frames.
  3. Your chances presents the most common causes of death based on exact age, race, and sex.
  4. Special cancer tables present the risk of diagnosis and death of specific cancers.

What Can I Learn from NCI’s “Know Your Chances” Tool?

There are many advantages to using the “Know Your Chances” website. Two of the major questions that the new tool addresses are: 1) How big of a risk one has to a specific cause of mortality and 2) How this risk compares with other causes of death. In knowing this information, we are able to assess our vulnerability to certain causes of death at different points of our life and can act accordingly.

In being aware of the percentages of risk we have to certain cancers, we are able to take preventative dietary measures, take regular screenings tests, or even develop a strong doctor-patient relationship to discuss our risks and how to prevent them.

The first step in advancing our health and increasing the quality and length of our lives is to educate ourselves about what dangers we face. Likewise, the NCI’s “Know Your Chance” website is both an innovative and advanced way to acquire the individual knowledge that we need.