WASHINGTON — If you smoke, start thinking of yourself as a decade older than you are.
A 55-year-old man who smokes has almost the same chance of dying in the next 10 years as a 65-year-old who has never smoked — a stark example from new charts that aim to put some of the biggest health risks into context.
"Useful messages about health risks should address two questions: 'How big is my risk, and how does this risk compare with other risks?' " said Dr. Lisa Schwartz of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt.
Schwartz's team combed government death statistics to update easy-to-read doctors' office charts comparing the odds of death in the coming 10 years for different ages and diseases.
Among the bottom-line messages, reported in this week's Journal of the National Cancer Institute:
Risks change with age. Accidents are the single largest cause of death for nonsmoking men until age 45. Then, accidents are tied with heart disease until 50, when heart risks take over.
Smoking worsens chances of survival. Seven of every 1,000 women will die of breast cancer between ages 60 and 70 — but 14 of 1,000 will die of heart disease. Among smokers, however, 31 of 1,000 women will die of heart disease, and another 41 of 1,000 will die of lung cancer.
The journal's Web site is www.jnci.oxfordjournals.org/.