Blacks Still More At Risk For Cancer

By HAZEL TRICE EDNEY Pacific News Service
Friday June 25, 2004

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The overall cancer death rate has decreased slightly over the past decade, but African-Americans continue to suffer higher rates of death from every major form of cancer than their white counterparts, according to a joint report issued this week by four leading health agencies. 

“Death rates from all cancers have been decreasing since the early 1990s,” the report states. It declined by 1.1 percent. “But, by 2001, death rates for white populations were substantially lower than those for black populations, an indication that black men and women may not have experienced the same benefits from screening and/or treatment as white men and women.” 

“Black men were at higher risk of dying of 12 cancers compared to white men, with the increased risk ranging from 9 percent for lung cancer to a high of 67 percent for oral cavity cancers, such as the lips and mouth,” states the report.  

Black women experienced higher risks of death from 12 cancers with the increase ranging from 7 percent for lung cancer to 82 percent for uterine cancer and melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer. 

The study was scheduled to be released Thursday by the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries. Findings (per 100,000) show:  

• For lung and bronchus cancer, the rate for blacks is 79.8 of which 65.2 die; the rate for whites is 62.4 of which 56.2 die. 

• For colon and rectum cancer, the rate for blacks is 63 of which 28.3 die; the rate for whites is 53.3 of which 20.3 died. 

• For breast cancer, the rate for black women is 119.9 of which 35.4 die; the rate for white women is 141.7 of which 26.4 die. 

• For prostate cancer, the rate for black men is 271.3 of which 70.4 die; the rate for white men is 167.4 of which 28.8 die. 

The report provides updated information on cancer rates and trends in the U. S. by comparing five-year survival rates of cancer patients diagnosed during two time periods, 1975-1979 and 1995-2000.  

Not only access to screening and treatment, but quality of care, screening and treatment could be key reasons for the higher death rates among blacks, says Brenda Edwards, a bio-statistician for the National Cancer Institute and one of the researchers for the study. 

“We actually tried to characterize what kind of work is ongoing that we think is targeted to helping us understand these differences and also try to mitigate or reduce the disparities that are there,” says Edwards.  

“Clearly, by putting this report out, by having the information out there by these different groups and having organizations such as [the NNPA News Service] pick up on it and make this information available, that increases awareness, helps people seek information about what they can do to lower their risk or to get the questions answered about seeking health care.” 

Edwards says the organizations started releasing information jointly six years ago in order to avoid conflicting reports. 

Dr. Alfred R. Ashford, an oncologist and director of medicine at Harlem Hospital Center in New York, knows first hand many of the reasons for the health disparities. 

“Sadly, it’s come out over the last number of years that the treatment of cancer for many people, including and especially of Blacks and poor people, is not as good as is available in the country,” explains Ashford.  

“There are gaps. There are breaches in the type, the quality of care and access to this care that further detract from the outcomes that we’re looking for here. Too often there are breaks and breaches in the delivery of complex care. There is a lack of coordination and lack of communication. Patients suffer even more fear than ever before. And it turns out to be rather disastrous all too often.” 

Ashford says people could do more to help themselves. 

“In terms of things that could decrease risk, smoking is one of the things at the very top,” he says. “The problem is still too great among African-Americans; especially in some communities, such as the one that I practice in, where the smoking rate is almost twice what it is elsewhere either in African-American or in white communities.” 

In Harlem, Ashford says, 45 percent of all adults smoke, compared to 23.6 percent of adult black people around the country. About 23.8 percent of all whites smoke. 

Experts outlined the following ways to fight cancer: 

• Getting regular checkups and knowing the early warning signs; 

• Quitting smoking; 

• Losing weight because obesity and lack of exercise are risk-factors for cancers as well as other diseases such as diabetes and heart disease;  

• Establishing a good relationship with a primary care physician or a regular doctor who would be a constant source of information on personal health and cancer risks; and 

• Getting cancer education materials to all segments of the community and holding public forums to answer questions and dispel fears. 

The key is also dispelling the myths about cancer, Ashford says. He recalled that at one time in the black community, black people didn’t think cancer was a disease that was pervasive among African-Americans.  

“And if they got it, they didn’t want to know about it because it was a death sentence,'' he says.›