New report: Fewer African-American deaths from cancer

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The overall rate of African-American deaths from cancer is declining, according to an American Cancer Society report out today — and African-American men are seeing the fastest decline than any other group.

“We see the disparity between black and white men narrowing,” says Carol DeSantis, epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the report.

According to DeSantis, this drop in deaths — from 2000 to 2009 — is mostly due to lower rates of lung cancer and directly correlates to less cigarette smoking. DeSantis and her colleagues estimate that nearly 200,000 cancer deaths were averted.

However, despite these gains, African-American men are still being diagnosed with cancer 15 percent more than white men and dying more. African-American women are less likely to develop most cancers, but they too are dying more than white women.

“With African-American women, it’s really upsetting,” DeSantis says. “They have lower rates of breast cancer, but they are more likely to die from the disease. It’s just unacceptable.”

An estimated 176,620 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed among African-Americans in 2013, says the report: that’s 94,540 cases among men and 82,080 cases among women.

Prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women are expected to be the two most commonly diagnosed cancers this year. The four most common cancers — breast, prostate, colorectal and lung — will make up more than half of all cancer cases among African-Americans.

“You’ve got screening for breast cancer, where catching it early improves your outcomes, and screening for colorectal cancer which is preventable,” says DeSantis. “African-Americans are just not getting access to these high-quality screenings that we’ve had over the past few decades.”

Researchers are actively looking into reasons for these disparities. It’s suspected that socioeconomics plays more of a role than actual differences between races.

The American Cancer Society is also excited for the Affordable Care Act and hopes that it’s a step in the right direction and levels the playing field, says DeSantis.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.