Cancer death rates have historically been higher for African Americans than for whites, but that gap has been narrowing over the past few decades. The overall cancer death rate is dropping faster in Blacks than in whites, mostly in 3 cancer types: lung, colorectal, and prostate.
“Cancer Statistics for African Americans, 2019,” 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 2019-2021, provides numbers on new cancer cases, deaths, survival, screening test use, and risk factors for African Americans.
“Seeing the substantial progress made over the past several decades in reducing Black-white disparities in cancer mortality is incredibly gratifying,” said Len Lichtenfeld, MD, interim chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “This progress is driven in large part by drops in the lung cancer death rate driven by more rapid decreases in smoking over the past 40 years in Blacks than in whites. To continue this progress, we need to expand access to high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment for all Americans.”
African Americans in the US still have the highest death rate and lowest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers. About 202,260 new cancer cases and 73,030 cancer deaths are expected among Blacks in the US in 2019.
Much of the difference is because of lower socioeconomic status and less access to medical care. For example, the study authors note that in 2017, the proportion of Blacks living below the federal poverty level (21%) was more than double that of whites (9%), and 22% of Blacks had completed 4 years of college compared with 36% of whites. People with lower socioeconomic status face more barriers to high-quality health care, including lack of insurance.
About 98,020 cancer cases in Black men and 104,240 cases in Black women are expected to be newly diagnosed in 2019. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Black men, and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed in Black women. Each makes up nearly one-third of cancers diagnosed in each gender. Lung and colorectal cancers are the second and third most commonly diagnosed cancers in both Black men and women. Together, the 4 most common cancers (breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung) account for more than one-half (54%) of all cancer cases among Blacks.
The progress is even more striking in some age groups.
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Cancer statistics for African Americans, 2019. Published February 14, 2019 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Carol E. DeSantis, MPH, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.
Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2019-2021. Published February 14, 2019. American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.