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Cancer deaths fall for African American men, disparities remain


The latest report on cancer among African Americans shows a good-news, bad-news scenario. While racial gaps are closing for some types of cancers, including fewer cancer deaths among African American men, disparities are increasing for some cancers that can be found through routine screenings.

The report
Every year, the American Cancer Society reports on the latest data, based on reports from the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. The newest information includes data for the year 2009. This year’s report is published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The results
The latest data show that the cancer death rate declined faster for African American men than among White men during the latest time period. African American men experienced a drop of 2.4% annually, compared with 1.7% among White men. That means the prevention of nearly 200,000 cancer deaths among African Americans since the 1990s, according to the report.

“The decline is greater for Black males because they started with higher rates of deaths and especially greater rates of preventable deaths,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society and CNN Health conditions expert.

All races have shown declines in deaths beginning in 1991, Brawley said. The declines in Black men were first noticed in 1999.

Brawley says the decline shows success in cancer prevention. Smoking cessation in the 1960s and 1970s made a big impact. Brawley also notes the importance of getting adequate treatment to the African American population.

Decreasing disparities in care is a reason for the drop, but Brawley notes that “as in smoking cessation, we can do better.”

Despite the decline in cancer deaths, African Americans are still more likely to get cancer than White Americans. And cancer death rates remain 33% higher among African American men than White men.

Cancer death rates among African American women are 16% higher than among White women. “These disparities reflect unequal access to health care and other socioeconomic factors,” Brawley said.

The takeaway
Despite some progress, the report reveals that while racial gaps are closing for some cancers, including lung and smoking-related cancers and for prostate cancer, the racial disparity has increased for colorectal cancer and female breast cancers. It’s important to note that those cancers can be caught and treated with early screening.

“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,” Brawley said.