Racial gaps remain in cancer rates

A cancer patient receives a chemotherapy drip.
(Chris Hondros / Getty Images)

Cancer death rates among African American men declined faster than those of white men in the last decade, even though overall survival rates for black men and women remained the lowest of all racial groups for most types of cancer, according to a recent report.

In a study published Tuesday in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers found that while the racial gap was closing for lung and smoking-related cancers, as well as prostate cancer, the disparity between black and white patients was widening for colorectal cancer and breast cancer.

“To the extent to which these disparities reflect unequal access to healthcare versus other factors remains an active area of research,” wrote lead author Carol DeSantis, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society. “Overall, progress in reducing cancer death rates has been made, although more can and should be done to accelerate this progress through ensuring equitable access to cancer prevention, early detection, and state-of-the-art treatments.”


From 2000 to 2009, the cancer death rate among all American males declined faster among blacks than among whites (by 2.4% per year for blacks vs 1.7% for whites), authors wrote. For women, the difference was much less pronounced: a 1.5% decline for black women and 1.4% for white women.

Lung cancer mortality remains higher for blacks than for whites. However, authors wrote that if the current trends continue, racial differences could be eliminated for lung cancer in 40 to 50 years.

“Smoking prevalence decreased more rapidly in African Americans aged 25 years to 34 years compared with whites,” authors wrote. “African American adolescents also initiate smoking at a much lower rate than their white counterparts.”

Overall, cancer death rates remain 33% higher among African American men than white men. The cancer death rate among African American women is 16% higher than among white women, despite a 6% lower cancer incidence rate.

For all cancers combined, the highest death rates among black men were found in Mississippi, Arkansas and Iowa. Among black women, the highest death rates were reported in Nebraska, Illinois and Indiana.