Racial Disparities in Cancer Death Rate Declining

Mortality gap in cancer deaths among African Americans and Caucasians may eventually disappear.

Mortality gap in cancer deaths among African Americans and Caucasians may eventually disappear.

Racial disparities in cancer mortality have begun to narrow and may eventually disappear, according to the results of a recent study.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, the study analyzed data from the "Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results" program of the National Cancer Institute. The data showed overall cancer mortality decreased faster among African American men and women than among Caucasians from 2000 to 2010.

The total cancer mortality gap between African Americans and Caucasians dropped overall by 14.6% (from 16.4 to 14%) in women and 31.1% (from 40.2 to 27.7%) in men during the time frame.

“Should these trends continue, racial disparities in cancer outcomes would continue to narrow, and might potentially be eliminated over time,” the study authors wrote.

The improvement in the morality rate among African Americans was apparently due to factors such as increased access to high quality treatment and successful prevention strategies, according to the study. The researchers noted these strategies included smoking cessation programs, widespread screening and testing, decreased prescribing of hormone replacement therapy to menopausal women, and increased prescribing of anti-inflammatory drugs that lower the colorectal cancer risk.

The data showed that from 2000 to 2010, annual total cancer deaths per 1000 Americans dropped 16% to 1.7 in African American women, dropped 14% to 1.5 among Caucasian women, dropped 29% to 2.6 among African American men, and dropped 18% to 2.1 among Caucasian men.

The sharpest drop in cancer mortality was found in prostate cancer among African American men, which declined 43% from 2000 to 2010. Meanwhile, prostate cancer deaths among Caucasian men decreased by 38%. There was also a significant decline in lung cancer mortality in African American men, which was down 37%.

Lung cancer among females of both races showed the slowest rate of improvement, with mortality down 7% in Caucasian women and 9% in African American women.

The study noted that lung cancer was the only cancer type included in the analysis that found African Americans with a lower mortality rate than Caucasians, which only applied to females. This was due to a historically lower prevalence of smoking in African American women compared with Caucasian women, according to the study.

"Despite significant gains in overall cancer mortality over this time period, persistent cancer disparities by race exist,” the authors wrote. “Policy solutions that address access to and quality of the health care system are certainly important toward narrowing disparities, but cannot fully redress broader societal inequities at the core of racial and ethnic health disparities."