Cancer doesn’t play fair to begin with, and if you’re African American the risk of getting and/or dying from the disease is even greater.
While overall risk of both developing and dying from all types of cancer is the same for African Americans as white Americans, the most common types are particularly bad actors for black patients.
For example, prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men, but one in five African Americans are diagnosed with it, compared to one in six white men, and one in 22 blacks will die compared to one in 39 whites. This makes African American men the most likely group in the world to die from this very curable type of cancer.
For women, African Americans are both more likely to be diagnosed with and die from breast cancer then whites, with particularly stark difference in Tennessee. Here, 33 black women per 100,000 die from breast cancer compared to just shy of 22 per 100,000 for white women, making its death rate one of the highest in the country.
The differences were once much greater, and the five-year survival rate from cancer for African Americans has gone up from 27 percent in 1960-1963 to 60 percent in 2002-2008. However, that lags overall survival rates, with 69 percent of whites living five years or more beyond a cancer diagnosis.
The reasons why aren’t completely clear. Lack of adequate screening may be a problem. For instance, although approximately the same percentage of black and white women get mammograms, more African Americans are diagnosed with later stage cancer—indicating perhaps too long a lag time between tests or improper follow-up of suspicious results.
But biological differences could also account for higher mortality rates among blacks.