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Cancer Health Center

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Black Cancer Death Rate Higher

Late Diagnosis, Less Access to Treatment Cuts Cancer Survival for Blacks, Report Says
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 1, 2007 -- Black Americans are more likely to die of cancer than whites, the American Cancer Society reports.

Black men are 35% more likely to die of cancer than white men; black women are 18% more likely to die of cancer than white women.

Why? The American Cancer Society (ACS) says it boils down to one main reason: Less access to health care and health information for blacks than for whites.

"Access to insurance and health care, as well as health education, play an important role in one's health -- but a lot of African Americans do not have access to these tools," Durado Brooks, MD, director of prostate and colorectal cancers for the ACS, said in a news release.

The findings come in the newly released ACS publication Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2007-2008.

There is some good news for blacks.

As it has since the early 1990s, the overall cancer death rate for black Americans continued its decline of about 1.7% a year. That's faster than the 1% decline for white Americans.

The ACS notes, "Still, some key statistics in the report show a continuing racial divide":

  • Prostate cancer is 2.4 times more deadly for black men than for white men.
  • Breast cancer is 1.4 times more deadly for black women than for white women.
  • Colon cancer and breast cancer rates are declining more slowly for blacks than for whites.
  • By the time black Americans find out they have cancer, their cancer is at a later stage than for newly diagnosed white Americans. There are fewer treatment options for later-stage cancer.
  • For all major cancers, black Americans are less likely than whites to survive five years after diagnosis -- even when their cancers are diagnosed at the same stage.

Black Americans, the report states, have "less access to appropriate and timely treatment" than do white Americans.

This appears mostly due to social and economic factors:

  • The income of nearly one-in-four black Americans is below the poverty level. One-in-10 white Americans lives below the poverty line.
  • 20% of black Americans and 11% of white Americans lack health insurance.
  • 19.4% of black Americans and 10% of white Americans don't have a high school education.

"This report makes clear there is a need for more focus on improving socioeconomic factors and providing educational opportunities that can help further lessen cancer's unequal burden on African Americans," Brooks said.

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