African Americans Continue to Have Lower Cancer Survival Rates

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new report shows that African Americans continue to have lower cancer survival rates, compared to whites. However, death rates among African Americans with all types of cancer have declined overall.

The findings come from Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2009-2010, published every two years.

Otis W. Brawley, M.D., American Cancer Society chief medical officer says, "African Americans have the highest death rate of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. According to the report, the reasons are not biological, but probably related to social and economic disparities related to income, education, and standard of living.

Brawley admits that the disparities are discouraging, saying… "we absolutely must face them and continue to enact policies to address them in order to save lives and reduce suffering from cancer among African Americans."

The report shows that cancer deaths in African American are thirty-three percent higher than in white men. Deaths from cancer in African American women are sixteen percent higher compared to whites.

Overall statistics show that cancer survival in African American men has increased at a faster rate, compared to whites, primarily from declines in prostate and lung cancer. The same is not true for African American women, whose death rates from cancer are dropping more slowly as the result of lesser declines in breast and colorectal cancer deaths.

The report estimates 150,090 new cases of invasive cancer in 2009 among African Americans, resulting in 63,360 deaths. Thirty-four percent African American men are expected to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, 16% cancer of the lung, and 10% colorectal cancer.

Twenty-five percent of African American women are expected to develop breast cancer, 12% lung cancer, and 11% colon and rectal cancer.


Cancer of the lung is expected to be the most common cause of cancer deaths in African American men and women in 2009, followed by prostate cancer in men, and breast cancer in African American women. Other cancer deaths that follow include colon, rectal, and pancreatic cancers as the third and fourth leading causes of cancer deaths.

Brawley says, "African Americans have the highest death rate of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers."

A breakdown of complex issues affecting cancer survival among African Americans, comparing to whites, include:

· Lack of exercise, as reported in the survey,

· Reported negligence of mammogram screening in African American women over age 40,

· Lack of education,

· Comparatively fewer screenings for colon cancer

· Higher rates of obesity

· Diagnosis of cancer in advanced stages of the disease

Although disparities still exist, overall cancer deaths in African Americans have declined since 2005. Cancer survival is still higher among whites. The reasons are complex. The current analysis better defines why cancer survival rates among African Americans men and women remain lower, compared to whites.