ACS Report: Cancer Death Rates Drop for African Americans, but Racial Gaps Remain

The cancer death rate for men in the United States declined faster among African Americans than among men of any other racial or ethnic group according to a new report from the American Cancer Society. The reduction in overall cancer death rates since the early 1990s translates to the avoidance of nearly 200,000 deaths from cancer among African Americans. And yet, African Americans continue to have higher death rates for many types of cancer.

Cancer Statistics for African Americans, 2013,” 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 2013-2014 – provides numbers on new cancer cases, deaths, survival, screening test use, and risk factors for African Americans. The report is published every other year.

The report found that from 2000 to 2009, the overall cancer death rate declined faster among African American men than white men (2.4% vs. 1.7% per year), but declined at similar rates among African American women and white women (1.5% vs. 1.4% per year).

The drop in cancer death rates among African American men was mostly due to decreases in lung cancer, other smoking-related cancers, and prostate cancer. However, the racial gap has widened for colon cancer in men and women and breast cancer in women, cancer types which are most affected by access to screening and treatment. Death rates for all cancers combined remain 33% higher in black men and 17% higher in black women, compared to white men and women.

“These disparities largely reflect unequal access to health care and other socioeconomic factors,” said Otis W. Brawley. MD, American Cancer Society chief medical officer. “While cancer death rates among African American men have been declining rapidly, they remain 33% 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.”

Additional findings:

  • Twenty percent of African Americans are uninsured compared to only 11% of whites. In addition, 28% of African Americans live below the federal poverty threshold compared to 10% of non-Hispanic whites. Socioeconomic status is linked to cancer risk and outcomes.
  • Overweight and obesity are more common among African American women and girls than white women and girls, while there is less racial disparity among men and boys. Fifty-nine percent of African American women and 25% of African American girls are obese compared to 33% of white women and 15% of white girls. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers, including cancers of the breast, colon and rectum, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, and pancreas.
  • Breast cancer death rates have declined more slowly in African American women (1.4% per year from 2000-2009) compared to white women (2.1% per year), which has resulted in a widening gap.
  • The disparity in lung cancer death rates between African American and white men has been reduced from more than 50% in 1990-1992 to 26% in 2005-2009, and has been eliminated in adults younger than age 40, likely because fewer young African Americans are smoking.

Closing the Gap

The American Cancer Society is committed to reducing the disparity gap. The Society is currently funding 82 studies totaling nearly $67 million in disparities research. Of those, 32 grants totaling nearly $28 million involve research specifically related to African Americans.

To read the full report, visit

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