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Cancer Death Rates High in African-Americans

Although the overall cancer death rate in African Americans has continued to decrease since the early 1990s, the rate was 35 percent higher in African American men and 18// percent higher in African American women than in white men and women in the most recent time period (2003).

However, the disparity among men has narrowed over the past 10 years because rates have decreased faster in African Americans than whites. These data appear in the newly released Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2007-2008.

The report estimates that approximately 153,000 of the 1.4 million cases of invasive cancer diagnosed in the US in 2007 will be among African Americans, as well as almost 63,000 of the estimated 560,000 deaths from cancer. The most common cancers diagnosed in African American men are prostate, lung and bronchus, and colon and rectum; among African American women, cancers of the breast, lung and bronchus, and colon and rectum are the most commonly diagnosed. Cancer of the lung is the most common cause of cancer death in both African American men and women, followed by prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women.

Although African Americans have experienced high mortality rates from cancer for many years, the situation is improving (especially in men). The death rate from all cancers combined has decreased an average of 1.7 percent per year from 1995 to 2003 among African Americans, compared to 1.0 percent per year among whites from 1992 to 2003.

Still some key statistics in the report show a continuing racial divide:

- African Americans have the highest death rate of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. Death rates from prostate cancer are 2.4 times higher in African American men compared to white men; among women, breast cancer death rates are 1.4 times higher among African Americans than whites.

Although death rates are declining for colorectal cancer and breast cancer among both African Americans and whites, declines are smaller for African Americans resulting in widening disparities.

African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage when there are fewer and less effective treatment options.

In general African Americans are less likely than whites to survive five years after diagnosis for all major cancer sites even after accounting for differences in stage at diagnosis.

“Access to insurance and healthcare as well as health education play an important role in one’s health, but a lot of African Americans do not have access to these tools,” said Durado Brooks, MD, the American Cancer Society’s director of prostate and colorectal cancers. “As the nation celebrates Black History month this February, this report makes clear there is a need for more focus on improving socioeconomic factors and providing educational opportunities that can help further lessen cancer’s unequal burden on African Americans.”

Socioeconomic factors that can affect cancer prevention and early detection include behaviors such as tobacco avoidance and maintenance of a healthy body weight. The proportion of overweight US adults has increased markedly over the past decades. Among African American adults, 76% are considered overweight and 45% are considered obese. Inequalities in education, income, and health insurance coverage, as well as social barriers to high quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment contribute to a lower five-year survival rate for many cancers in African Americans compared to whites.

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