February 17th, 2011

Cancer Rates Remain Higher for African Americans


Cancer rates continue to be higher among African Americans than any other racial group in the United States. These data were recently released in the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2011-2012.

Many of the data about racial disparity in cancer incidence, and cancer rates among African Americans in particular, are encouraging. Overall, the gaps in cancer death rates between racial groups have decreased, and since 1991, death rates among African Americans have continuously declined. Notable declines in death rates among African Americans include fewer deaths from smoking-related cancers and prostate cancers; death rates in both categories have decreased faster for African-American men than they have for White men.

The gap in cancer incidence remains, however, between African Americans and Whites. In 2007, 32% more African-American men and 16% more African-American women died of cancer than White men and women.

The most common cancers among African-American men and women are as follows:


  • Prostate (40% of new cancer diagnoses)
  • Lung (15% of new cancer diagnoses)
  • Colorectal (9% of new cancer diagnoses)


  • Breast (34% of new cancer diagnoses)
  • Lung (13% of new cancer diagnoses)
  • Colorectal (11% of new cancer diagnoses)

Data for cancer deaths among African Americans indicate that lung cancer is the leading cause of death for both men and women (responsible for 29% and 22% of cancer deaths, respectively). Prostate cancer follows lung cancer as the most frequent cause of cancer death among men (16% of cancer deaths), and breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women (22% of cancer deaths).

In addition to higher rates of cancer incidence and death for African Americans compared with Whites, African Americans have a greater risk of being diagnosed with advanced-stage disease. And, for all cancer types, African Americans are less likely to survive five years after diagnosis, regardless of stage at diagnosis.

According to the ACS report, reasons for racial gaps in cancer incidence and death include differences in income, education, and access to high-quality healthcare, as well as lifestyle factors. Overweight and obesity rates among African Americans may also contribute to cancer incidence and deaths­—44% of African-Americans are considered obese, and 74% are overweight. As well, inadequate physical activity among African Americans may also play a role in cancer incidence and mortality.

To further investigate cancer disparities, including racial gaps, the ACS has funded multiple studies. The goal of this research is to reduce the disparity in cancer incidence within the U.S. population.

Reference: Cancer’s Racial Gap Narrowing for Some, Not All, Cancers [news release].

American Cancer Society. February 1, 2011,

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