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Race Still Plays Role in U.S. Cancer Death Rates
  • Posted January 12, 2024

Race Still Plays Role in U.S. Cancer Death Rates

While cancer death rates have fallen among Americans generally over the past two decades, a new study finds Black Americans are still more likely than whites to die from the disease.

There has been some improvement in closing the gap -- in 2000, Black Americans were 26% more likely to die of cancer than whites, but by 2020 that disparity had shrunk to 12%, researchers at Duke University found.

American Cancer Society statistics show that cancer deaths for all Americans have fallen by a third since 1991.

However, the new analysis finds that "substantial racial and ethnic disparities persisted for many common and preventable cancers," said study co-authors Tomi Akinyemiju and Anjali Gupta.

Akinyemiju is associate professor of population health and global health at Duke's Global Health Institute, and Gupta was a university scholar at Duke when the research was conducted.

The research focused on U.S. National Center Health Statistics data collected between 2000 and 2020. The investigators tracked death rates for the four most common cancers: lung, breast, prostate and colon.

Crunching the numbers, they found that death rates have declined overall, regardless of race.

In 2000, about 252 of every 100,000 Black people died of cancer, and that number had tumbled to about 167 two decades later.

But Black Americans' death rates remained higher than those of whites. White Americans had a cancer death rate of about 198 per 100,000 in 2000 and about 149 per 100,000 by 2020, the Duke team noted.

The racial gap for breast cancer deaths actually widened: In 2000, Black women were 31% more likely than white women to die from the disease, and by 2020 that number had risen to 37%.

Black men face more than double the odds of dying from prostate cancer than white men, and they have a 45% higher odds for fatal colon cancer, compared to their white peers.

Why, despite steady improvements in cancer detection and treatment, do these disparities persist?

According to the researchers, it's probably due to a "confluence of factors" including structural racism, mistrust of the medical profession by some Black Americans, inequities in accessing quality health care, poverty and "aggressive tumor biology" that can be traced to genetics and other factors.

The new findings, published in the Jan. 12 issue of JAMA Health Forum, "underscore the importance of sustained, focused efforts to reduce cancer burden among Black patients across the continuum of cancer care," the researchers wrote.

More information

Find out more about racial disparities in cancer incidence and death at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: JAMA Health Forum, Jan. 12, 2024

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