Black women today have a 16 percent higher death rate from cancer than white women, whereas in 1981 the rate was 14 percent higher. Among black men, the cancer death rate is 33 percent greater today than in white men, virtually the same as in 1981.
The racial gap persists, according to Peter Bach of New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (who was not involved in the ACS study), because blacks tend to be diagnosed at more advanced, less curable cancer stages than whites. In addition, blacks are not as likely as whites to receive top-flight medical attention.
Bach showed in a seminal 2004 study that physicians who treated blacks weren’t as likely to possess board certification, and frequently didn’t have access to crucially important diagnostic imaging tests and specialists. Additionally, according to Jemal, blacks have a greater chance of being poor and poorly educated.
The ACS report found that education level in particular had the greatest effect on cancer survival for both blacks and whites. Cancer death rates for both races are about twice as high among those with a high school education or less than for people who have attended college. Still, the racial gap endures even among those with the same education level.
The report showed that blacks have a lower rate of screening for colorectal cancer, and are more likely than whites to be overweight and inactive, which are risk factors for cancer. To close the racial gap, Bach suggested, blacks need to be encouraged to have a personal doctor, get plenty of exercise and never smoke. And the health care system needs to ensure that the physicians and hospitals handling black cancer patients have the necessary training and resources.