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ACS Report: African Americans’ Cancer Death Rates Continue to Drop, Reducing Disparities for Some Cancer Types

Cancer death rates among African Americans have decreased continuously over the past 2 decades, resulting in 300,000 cancer deaths that were avoided since the early 1990s, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society.

Cancer Statistics for African Americans, 2016,” published in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, along with its companion piece Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2016-2018, provides numbers on new cancer cases, deaths, survival, screening test use, and risk factors for African Americans.

The report found that from 2003 to 2012, the overall cancer death rate declined faster among black men and women than white men and women in the US. (2.5% vs. 1.6% per year for men and 1.5% vs. 1.3% per year for women).

Racial gaps remain despite progress

However, overall death rates for African Americans are still higher than for whites. And any progress was found for only some cancer types, while disparities have remained the same or increased for other cancer types. Death rates dropped faster in blacks than in whites for lung cancer in men and women, for prostate cancer in men, and for colorectal cancer in women. This has helped to narrow the gap in cancer deaths between black and white Americans for these cancer types and for cancer overall.

But the gap has not narrowed for colorectal cancer in men. And for breast cancer in women, the gap has actually increased. Authors of the report say this is likely due to inequalities in access to care, including screening and treatment.

“It has long been recognized that these gaps in mortality and survival largely reflect socioeconomic disparities,” said Carol DeSantis, MPH, lead author of the report. “But while some studies suggest that blacks who receive cancer treatment and medical care similar to that of whites experience similar outcomes, others report that racial disparities persist even after controlling for socioeconomic factors and access to care. The bottom line is accelerating progress in eliminating racial disparities requires equitable access to services for prevention, early detection, and high-quality treatment.”

Additional findings:

  • About 189,910 new cancer cases and 69,410 cancer deaths are expected among blacks in 2016.
  • In black men, rates of new cancer cases from 2003 to 2012 decreased by 2% per year for all cancers combined as well as for the top 3 cancer types (prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers).
  • In black women, rates of new cancer cases from 2003 to 2012 remained unchanged for all cancers combined. Rates of new breast cancer cases increased, while rates of lung and colorectal cancer cases decreased.
  • The 5-year relative survival rate is lower in blacks than in whites for every stage of diagnosis for most cancer types. Much of the disparity, according to the report, is due to unequal access to health care.

Closing the Gap

The American Cancer Society is committed to reducing the disparity gap.

  • The Society has developed several programs and services specifically designed to reach African American audiences with education, training, and grants that promote health equity.
  • During the past decade, the Society’s Extramural Grants program has awarded 193 grants, totaling nearly $128 million, for research in poor and underserved populations.
  • The Society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), works at the state and federal levels to influence policies that will improve access to health care for everyone with cancer.

To read the full report, visit

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2016-2018. Published February 22, 2016. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Cancer statistics for African Americans, 2016: Progress and Opportunities in Reducing Racial Disparities. Published early online February 22, 2016 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Carol E. DeSantis, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.