Cancers by ethnic group: Numbers tell just part of the story

April 13, 2014 | by

Cancer risk varies by ethnicity, as does the risk of cancer-related death. But the size of those differences can be surprising, highlighting the health disparities that exist among various ethnic groups in the United States.

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Both cancer incidence and death rates for men are highest among African-Americans, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among women, incidence rates are highest among whites, but death rates are highest among African-Americans.

“The causes of cancer health disparities are complex, with root causes stemming from genetic susceptibility, stress and immune function, and family history, as well as health care system factors including preventive care access and utilization, quality care, and diagnostic and therapeutic care delay,” said Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., director of the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE) at City of Hope.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2014 reports that African-Americans and American Indians tend to have more aggressive cancers, more treatment-resistant cancers and lower five-year survival than the general population.

Also of note, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to get cancer at younger ages, and Asian-Americans have the poorest cancer screening rates.

In the case of breast cancer, African-Americans and Latinas have a greater-than-average risk of premenopausal-onset, triple-negative and inflammatory cancers that are more difficult to treat.

“In the face of cancer, African-American, Latina and poor women have a greater challenge to bear,” Ashing said. “They are diagnosed at later stages at diagnosis, have more delays in their diagnostic and therapeutic care, worse medical and physical outcomes, and higher mortality. Yet, they have less access to resources, particularly when the treatment ends.”

To help call attention to such health disparities, April has been declared National Minority Health Month and April 13 to 19 has been declared National Minority Cancer Awareness Week.

Ashing is committed to improving the quality of follow-up care and quality of life for minorities facing cancer, and hopes to add years of life to affected populations through City of Hope’s CCARE program.

Through the program, Ashing encourages minority participation in cancer prevention, screening practices and education within the community.

“Our approach is rooted in the evidence and value that knowledge is power and empowerment leads to action,” Ashing said. “Therefore, we are committed to arming our community with knowledge and skills, thereby building capacity that stimulates the multiplier effect — an increase in knowledge and capacity that starts a chain reaction creating more activity.”

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Cancer and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement: Systems and Self-Determination

On April 17 from 5:30 to 8 p.m., City of Hope's Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education will be hosting a dinner and panel discussion focusing on:

  • Health systems and cancer health disparities
  • Clinical cancer genetics and personalized medicine
  • Diversity in clinical trials and biospecimen studies
  • Advocacy and self-determination in cancer equity

The event will provide continuing medical education credits for physicians, registered nurses and physician's assistants. Visit this page for more information or to register.

Learn more about the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education at City of Hope.