Know Your Chances is the NCI’s first major effort
to provide statistics on non-cancer causes of death to help put the risk of death from various cancers in perspective.
The 2017 national health observances calendar lists 220 specific disease days, weeks, or months, ranging from sepsis awareness month to world cancer day. Most, if not all, of the organizations sponsoring these observances maintain websites.
While these websites can help focus the public’s attention on a specific disease and the need for more research, they are not always transparent sources for helping people understand risk. The problem often lies with how the information is presented. Big numerators (i.e., the count of people who died from the disease) without denominators (i.e., the number of people who could have died from the disease) or without the time frame are attention grabbers, but they do not help people understand what they might really want to know: just how big is my chance of dying from this disease in the foreseeable future?
Working with National Cancer Institute (NCI), Dartmouth Institute professors Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin helped to create a new website, Know Your Chances, which represents the NCI’s first major effort to provide statistics on non-cancer causes of death to help put the risk of death from various cancers in perspective.
The website enables journalists and public health communicators to quickly locate risk estimates for specific groups of people. Clinicians, researchers, and decision makers can see the big picture, which can help them prioritize risk reduction efforts. And, the website helps all of us navigate the constant stream of often overwhelming health information available to us.
The website features interactive charts that put probabilities of dying from cancer and other diseases in context. The charts adhere to important risk communication standards. They present the chance of death (not just numerator counts), which users can choose to express as percentages or frequencies (e.g., x deaths per 1000 people). The chance of death is generated for defined starting ages and time frames.
Because most people do not regularly see numerical risk estimates, they need context to help gauge whether the numbers are big or small. The website provides this context by comparing the chance of death for different diseases and for all causes combined. Schwartz, Woloshin, and their collaborators are currently working on a new feature that will allow the charts to be tailored to smoking—one of the strongest risk factors for dying from many diseases and from all causes.