Cancer Death Rates Decline Among Blacks, But Disparities Linger

WEDNESDAY Feb. 18, 2009 -- Black Americans' cancer death rates continue to decline, an American Cancer Society report released Wednesday.

However, they are still diagnosed at more advanced stages of cancer than whites, the report's authors note, and blacks have lower survival rates at each stage of diagnosis of most types of cancers.

There will be about 150,090 new cases of invasive cancer diagnosed in U.S. blacks in 2009 and about 63,360 cancer deaths, according to the biannual ACS report. The most commonly diagnosed cancers will be prostate (34 percent), lung (16 percent), and colon and rectum (10 percent).

Among black women, the most common cancers will be breast (25 percent), lung (12 percent), and colon and rectum (11 percent), the report finds.

Cancer of the lung will be the most common cause of cancer death in both black men (31 percent) and women (23 percent), followed by prostate cancer in men (12 percent) and breast cancer in women (19 percent). Cancer of the colon/rectum and pancreatic cancer are expected to be the third and fourth most common causes of cancer death for both black men and women.

Death rates for all cancers combined have decreased faster among black men than white men, mostly due to rapid declines in lung and prostate cancer death rates among black men. Overall, cancer death rates have also decreased among black women but at a slower rate than among white women, likely due to smaller decreases in breast and colorectal cancer death rates among black women.

While racial disparities are decreasing, the 2005 death rate for all cancers combined was 33 percent higher in black men and 16 percent higher in black women when compared to that of white men and women, respectively.

"African-Americans have the highest death rates of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. As this report points out, the causes of these disparities are complex and likely reflect social and economic disparities, not biologic differences," Dr Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said in a news release.

"African-Americans face inequalities in income, education and standard of living, as well as barriers to accessing high-quality health care," he added. "And while it is discouraging that these differences still exist, we absolutely must face them and continue to enact policies to address them in order to save lives and reduce suffering from cancer among African-Americans."

Among the other findings in the report:

  • Blacks with higher levels of education have lower cancer death rates than those with less education. However, at each level of education, blacks still have higher cancer death rates than whites.
  • Almost half of blacks reported no leisure-time physical activity in 2006, compared to 35 percent of whites. Physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of breast, colon, prostate and endometrium cancers.
  • In 2005-06, 76 percent of black adults were overweight and 46 percent were obese, compared to 66 percent and 33 percent, respectively, of whites.
  • Only half of black women aged 40 and older reported having a mammogram within the past year, compared with 53 percent of white women. In 2005, 40 percent of blacks and 50 percent of whites reported having a recent colorectal cancer screening test.
  • Black boys and girls have lower smoking rates than any other racial/ethnic groups.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more on cancer health disparities.

Posted: February 2009


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