advances in cancer prevention, detection and treatment. He also cites changes in exposure to cancer risk factors, such as a decline in smoking rates.
At the same time, however, the researchers note that for most cancers, death rates in 2019 were higher among Black Americans than among white people, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Hispanics.
Among Black men, for example, the risk of dying from prostate cancer is five times higher than among Asian/Pacific Islander men.
Similarly, the risk that a Black woman will die of breast cancer is now 2.5 times higher than it is among Asian/Pacific Islander women.
How do we improve the outcome for Blacks?
“Many of the causes of racial disparities in cancer death rates are primarily systemic and preventable,” Lawrence shares. “For instance, Black patients are more likely to experience poor patient-physician interaction, longer referrals, delay in treatment, less frequent physician follow-up, greater medical mistrust, underuse of treatment, and health care system failure,” meaning that prescribed treatment doesn’t take place for unknown reasons.
Lawrence says any attempt to address the risk disparity would need to take a hard look at everyday reality. He notes, for example, the importance of figuring out why Black people “are more likely to reside in neighborhoods with poor accessibility to a cancer specialist, to see a physician with lower access to clinical resources, and to reside in communities with greater exposure to environmental hazards associated with cancer risk.”
Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, reacted to the findings.
“Cancer deaths are driven by biology, exposures and access to specialized care,” he notes.
Dahut says one potential way to improve the odds for Black Americans would be to increase research on “the biologic differences, which may be driving the increased death rate, in order to devise targeted screening and therapeutic strategies.”
At the same time, he echoes the need for a deeper look at how job-based and/or environmental exposure to hazardous toxins among Black people may drive up their risk.
Although you may face disparities in the level of cancer care you receive, you can improve your outcome by being proactive about your health and self-advocating for yourself, especially in situations where doctors may not believe you or listen.
Learn more about cancer trends and race at the American Cancer Society.