By Carol DeSantis, MPH
In conjunction with Black History Month, the American Cancer Society has released Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans, statistics published every 2 years. The 2013 issue reveals encouraging cancer trends for African Americans, as well as areas where significant disparities remain or are growing. Cancer disparities, or health inequity, are caused by a number of societal problems that result in greater suffering and more people dying from cancer.
Death rates drop, but inequity remains
The great news is that overall cancer death rates have steadily decreased for African American men and women. In fact, the most recent data show that death rates dropped faster for African American men than men in any other racial or ethnic group. That's caused the disparity in cancer death rates between African American and white men to shrink considerably. Cancer death rates among African American women are declining at a similar rate as those of white women.
Despite these declines, however, death rates for all cancers combined remain 33% higher in black men and 16% higher in black women, compared to white men and women. African American men also have higher death rates for most of the major cancer sites (including lung, prostate, colon/rectum, liver, pancreas, and others). Notably, the higher overall cancer death rate in African American women compared to white women occurs despite lower incidence rates for all cancers combined and for breast and lung cancer.
For African American men, the drop in cancer death rates is mostly due to decreases in lung cancer; other smoking-related cancers like oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, and kidney; and prostate cancer. Remarkably, the disparity in lung cancer death rates among black and white men has been cut in half for men overall, and has been eliminated in younger adults (ages 20-39). This progress is mostly due to the fact that more African American men are quitting smoking, compared to white men. Although African American men have historically higher smoking rates compared to white men, over the last decade smoking rates have become more similar. In addition, smoking rates are lower among African American than white high school students. It is believed that if current smoking trends persist, racial differences in lung cancer death rates will be eliminated in the next 40 to 50 years. More...