Cancer deaths among blacks are declining; still above others

Cancer deaths are steadily declining among blacks but remain higher than other racial and ethnic groups, a US government study released Thursday shows.

Cancer deaths are on the decline for all Americans over the past two decades due to declining smoking rates and advances in early detection and treatment.

According to a report published online in JAMA Oncology, rates among blacks fell by 2% each year from 1999 to 2019, from 359 cancer deaths per 100,000 to 239 deaths per 100,000 people.

In 2019, black men had the highest rates of cancer deaths at 294 deaths per 100,000, nearly double the lowest among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The rate for white men was 249 deaths per 100,000. For Hispanic men, it was 177 deaths per 100,000 and 255 deaths per 100,000 among Native American men.

An earlier report from the American Cancer Society found that the racial gap is narrowing, largely due to a greater decline in cigarette smoking among blacks.

In a new study based on an analysis of death certificates, deaths from most types of cancer have declined among black men and women. The largest declines were in lung cancer in black men and stomach cancer in black women. Both are associated with reduced smoking, which contributes to the development of many other types of cancer.

Mortality from liver cancer has increased among older men and women; Uterine cancer deaths have increased among women aged 35 to 70. Both types of cancer are closely associated with obesity.

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Persistently higher death rates among black Americans remain a problem and likely reflect social and economic inequalities, including poverty, less access to healthcare and distrust of doctors, said National Cancer Institute researcher Wayne Lawrence, who led the study.

“It shows that we can’t just rely on health care as a way to address and eliminate inequalities,” said Carla Williams, Howard University’s expert on cancer-related health inequalities, who was not involved in the study.

Cancer prevention expert Dr. Otis Brawley of Johns Hopkins University noted that other data show that black Americans are less well treated for cancer than whites. That’s partly because they’re more likely to be treated in hospitals with overburdened doctors and fewer resources, and less likely to have college degrees, he said.

Evidence suggests that people with college degrees are more likely to exercise, are not obese, and seek medical attention when they notice changes that could signal cancer, Brawley said.

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