Cancer Deaths Drop for U.S. Black Men as Rate Stays High

By Nicole Ostrow

Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) –- The number of black men dying of cancer dropped the most in the last two decades although their rates of death from the disease remain the highest among all U.S. ethnicities, according to a report.

As cancer deaths continued their 20-year decline in the U.S., rates among black men fell about 50 percent during the period, according to the American Cancer Society. Still, the death rates among black men were 27 percent higher that of white men and double that of Asian Americans, the report said.

Cancer causes 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S., according to the paper. Since 1991, the number of deaths from the disease has dropped 20 percent, representing about 1.34 million fewer cancer deaths. While the decline in cancer deaths among blacks has been more rapid, gaps exist in access to care that may be responsible for the higher numbers, the report’s authors said.

“With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we hope to see improvements in disparities in cancer survival and other cancer outcomes between blacks and whites,” Ahmedin Jemal, vice president of surveillance and health services research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, said in a telephone interview. “We have to apply what we know in cancer prevention and control to all segments of the population. We also need to invest more in discovery across all segments of the cancer continuum from prevention to early detection and treatment.”

President Barack Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is the biggest overhaul of the U.S. health-care system since the 1960s. It is expected to insure millions of Americans who previously couldn’t afford health coverage, many of them minorities.

Rate Comparison

This year about 1.67 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. and 585,720 people will die from it, the authors estimated. The average cancer death rate for black men from 2006 to 2010 was 276.6 per 100,000 compared with 217.3 for non-Hispanic white men and 132.4 for Asians/Pacific Islanders.

For black women, their rate of dying from cancer was 171.2 per 100,000 compared with 153.6 for white women and 92.1 for Asians/Pacific Islanders. Black men more often than all other ethnic groups are diagnosed with and die from cancers of the colon, lung, prostate and stomach, the report found. They also are diagnosed at later stages of their disease than their white counterparts, Jemal said. These patients also receive fewer treatments and undergo fewer prevention screenings for things like colon cancer because of a lack of access to care.

Black Women

Black women die more from all cancers than other women, including breast cancer even though white women have the highest rate of the disease. They are also more often diagnosed with and die from colon cancer, the report showed.

Cancer death rates among black men declined at a faster rate than white men because fewer black men have started smoking in the last 30 years, lowering their rates of cancers of the lung, oral cavity, esophagus and larynx, Jemal said.

“The progress we are seeing is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better,” said John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “The halving of the risk of cancer death among middle-aged black men in just two decades is extraordinary, but it is immediately tempered by the knowledge that death rates are still higher among black men than white men for nearly every major cancer and for all cancers combined.”

Common Cancers

The American Cancer Society estimates the number of new cancer cases and deaths in the U.S. each year using data through 2010, the latest year available, from the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The three most common cancers this year for women will be cancers of the breast, lung and colon, while for men it will be the disease of the prostate, lung and colon. Breast cancer will account for 29 percent of all new cancers in women, while prostate cancer will account for about 27 percent of all cancers in men.

The combined cancer death rate for men and women was 171.8 per 100,000 people in 2010 compared with a peak of 215.1 per 100,000 in 1991, the authors said.

Jemal said better prevention and treatment, improved early detection and fewer smokers are helping to drive down cancer death rates. More early detection is needed for cancers beyond those of the breast, cervix and colon.

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