A new study of cancer rates among African Americans has good news and bad news about the second leading cause of death for all Americans.
Disparities between rates of cancer among African Americans and Whites narrowed, according to the analysis published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
The decrease in disparities is largely attributable to lower rates of lung cancer among African-American men, driven by less smoking in this group. Lung cancer declined faster in African American men (3 percent per year) and women (1 percent per year) compared with White men (2 percent per year) and women (.6 percent per year) in the study period, between 2000 and 2009.
Overall, 200,000 cancer deaths have been avoided among African Americans since the early 1990s because of improvements in treatment and care, the report noted.
But death rates from most cancers remain higher among African Americans compared to Whites. Among African American men, cancer death rates are 33 percent higher compared to White men. For African American women, the cancer death rate is 16 percent higher than that among White women, even though their cancer incidence rate is 6 percent lower.
Disparities have increased for colorectum cancer and female breast cancer, the report also noted – two types of the disease that respond well to early diagnosis and treatment.
“These disparities largely reflect unequal access to health care and other socioeconomic factors,” Otis W. Brawley, American Cancer Society chief medical officer, said in a statement. “While cancer death rates among African-American men have been declining rapidly, they remain 33 percent higher than those among white men, evidence that more can and should be done to accelerate this progress by making sure all Americans have equal access to cancer prevention, early detection, and state-of-the-art treatments.”
The findings highlight other sharp racial disparities:
• Rates of cancer among African-American men are 15 percent higher overall than rates of cancer among White men and 15 percent higher for the most common forms of cancer.
• African-American women have a lower incidence of breast cancer compared to White women, but higher death rates from breast cancer. The five-year survival rate for African-American women with breast cancer is 78 percent, compared to 90 percent for White women.
• Rates of prostate cancer are declining but remain high for African-American men. The annual average incidence rate of prostate cancer was 63 percent higher for African-American men compared to White men.
• African-American men have the highest mortality rate for prostate cancer of any ethnic and racial group in the U.S.
The difference in survival rates among African Americans is largely attributable to barriers that limit access to timely, high quality care, the study authors say, though they also note that lifestyle factors, such as diet quality, do affect the frequency of some cancers, including stomach and colorectum cancer.