Cancer Deaths Are Down, But Blacks Still More Likely to Die

Poverty and lack of prevention are to blame.

So here’s the good news: Cancer deaths have dropped a whopping 20 percent in the past two decades, says a recent study.

Looking specifically at lung cancer, the deadliest cancer of all, death rates declined 36 percent between 1990 and 2011 among men and 11 percent between 2002 and 2011 among women. Even better: Black men ages 40-49 saw the greatest decreases — a 50 percent decline in all cancer deaths.

Rebecca Siegel, MPH, one of the study’s authors, told that these decreases are due to a range of factors.

“Over the years, cancer treatments have become more advanced, so have the screenings, like colonoscopies that really can actually prevent colon cancer. Not to mention, more people have stopped smoking, which has also played a huge role.”

However, there is bad news.

Despite this historic decease, African-Americans still have the highest cancer death rates, especially middle-aged Black men. Black women still had higher breast cancer deaths compared to white women.

Siegel emphasized, “We see again that the highest incidents are among Black men, almost doubling numbers compared to Asian-Americans.”

She added, “So again, these numbers show that if we implement what we know across the board — how poverty impacts outcomes, better access to health care, smoking cessation and encouraging the importance of early detection, given that when Blacks are diagnosed with cancer they are diagnosed in later stages when treatment is less likely to work — we can see greater declines within this demographic.

Other key findings included:

— Between 2006-2010 cancer death rates decreased by 1.8 percent per year in men and by 1.4 percent per year in women.

— A total of 1,665,540 new cancer cases and 585,720 deaths from cancer were projected to happen in 2014.

— Lung, colon, prostate and breast cancers continue to be the most common causes of cancer death, making up 50 percent of the cancer deaths among men and women.

— The most common is lung cancer, killing more than 1 out of every 4 cancer deaths. But colon cancer saw some major declines, with cases dropping 4 percent per year from 2008 to 2010.

— Among women, the three most common cancers in 2014 will be breast, lung and colon, which together will account for half of all cases. Breast cancer alone is expected to account for 29 percent of all new cancer cases among women.

— Southern states have worse cancer deaths than Northeastern states, which speaks to higher rates of obesity, poverty and lack of access to care.

And despite a different study that reported that most cancers are a mere consequence of “bad luck” and genetics, there are still lifestyle changes that can prevent our risk of developing cancer, at any age.

Siegel pointed out:

“The top four things that you can do to reduce your risk are to not smoke, to maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthier diet that includes less processed and red meats, and to get screened for colon, lung, breast and cervical cancers.”

Who's ready to take on that challenge?

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(Photo: Isaac Lane Koval/Corbis)

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