Cancer Deaths Decrease for Blacks but Disparities Persist

Report finds that some, not all, cancer screenings could prevent disease

1229_lif-costs-of-cancer-2Despite a reduction in cancer death rates, African Americans continue to be diagnosed at more advanced stages and have lower survival rates at each stage of diagnosis, according to a report released today by the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The latest edition of Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2009-2010 found that a rapid reduction in death rates from lung and prostate cancers is the primary reason that death rates declined for all cancers combined among African American men.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among African American men and women.

The report has been released every two years for the past 18 years and identifies disparities between blacks and whites in terms of rates for death, cancer occurrences, and screenings.

There is proof that cervical, breast, and colon cancer screenings work to prevent diseases, but prostate cancer screening is not proven, says Dr. Otis W. Brawley, an ACS spokesperson.

“We hope that prostate cancer screenings save lives, but we have no studies [which show that they do]. We have a theory,” Brawley says. “The difference is we know colorectal screening saves lives. There is no question about it. We have this amazing problem that 20% to 30% of black men are getting colon cancer screening while 70% are getting prostate cancer screening. Doctors don’t push colorectal screening the way they should.”

The report also shows that while overall cancer death rates have declined among African American women, they are falling at a slower rate than among white women.

“Part of the black/white difference in cancer rates is the black/white difference in obesity,” he says. “The most important thing that we can advise blacks in terms of diet and physical activity is that they need to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and they need to get physically active and try to maintain an ideal body weight.”

Unfortunately, Brawley predicts that cancer death rates are going to level out in the future and that rates just might start increasing because screening rates have decreased.

“Race does not matter accept in the socioeconomic sense,” says Brawley, emphasizing the importance of cancer screenings to save lives. “The data shows equal screening and treatment produces equal outcome.”

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