Disparities in some cancer mortality rates between African Americans and whites in the United States have decreased, but these differences remain in colorectal and breast cancers, according to a recent study. Overall cancer death rates have decreased since the early 1990s, resulting in the avoidance of cancer-related death in approximately 300 000 African Americans.1

Disparities in cancer mortality rates in African Americans have remained level among men with colorectal cancer and have widened among women with breast cancer. The racial gap in death rates, however, has decreased for all cancers combined in men and women and for lung and prostate cancers in men.

This study of cancer statistics for African Americans examined incidence data from the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. Mortality data were from the National Center for Health Statistics. Among men, incidence rates for all cancers combined decreased by 2% per year between 2003 and 2012.

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During this same time, overall incidence rates in women remained constant for all cancers combined. This trend in women was likely due to decreasing rates in lung and colorectal cancer and increasing rates in breast cancer diagnoses. Survival at 5 years, however, is lower for African Americans than for whites for most cancers at any stage of diagnosis.

From these results, statistics estimate that nearly 190 000 new cases of cancer and more than 69 000 cancer deaths will occur among African Americans in 2016.

“It has long been recognized that these gaps in mortality and survival largely reflect socioeconomic disparities,” stated lead author Carol DeSantis, MPH, director, Breast and Gynecological Cancer Surveillance, Surveillance and Health Services Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia.

“But while some studies suggest that blacks who receive cancer treatment and medical care similar to that of whites experience similar outcomes, others report that racial disparities persist even after controlling for socioeconomic factors and access to care. The bottom line is accelerating progress in eliminating racial disparities requires equitable access to services for prevention, early detection, and high-quality treatment.”


1. DeSantis CE, Siegel RL, Sauer AG, et al. Cancer statistics for African Americans, 2016: progress and opportunities in reducing racial disparities. CA Cancer J Clin [published online ahead of print February 22, 2016]. doi:10.3322/caac.21340.