Cancer Disparities

Anyone can get cancer. However, our age, race, gender, and wealth impact our experiences with cancer, including how we protect ourselves against cancer, how early we catch cancer, and how effective treatment is at beating our cancer.

WHO IS DIAGNOSED?

Across all types of cancer, race matters.

 

Black men have the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates compared to any other racial or ethnic group.

White women have the highest cancer incidence rates compared to any other racial or ethnic group. Conversely, Black women die from cancer at higher rates than white women.

Asian and Pacific Islanders are the least likely racial or ethnic group to be diagnosed with and also to die from cancer.

Latinx people are the second least likely to be diagnosed with cancer, but cancer is a leading cause of death among Latinx people.

MONEY MATTERS

Many factors impacting your risk of cancer and chances of survival (i.e. smoking, diet, insurance status) are influenced by your wealth.

People who are wealthier have:

  • Lower rates of lung, stomach, liver, cervical, esophageal, and oropharyngeal cancers
  • Higher rates of breast cancer and melanoma

In 1950, poor people had a 27% lower cancer mortality, but by 2014, they had a 22% higher cancer mortality rate compared to wealthy people.

WHO IS SURVIVING?

The reality is Black people are disproportionately dying from cancer.

 

Black people have the highest mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. Read that again. What’s more: 

  • Black women with cancer have a 13% higher mortality risk compared to white women, despite Black women having a 7% lower risk of cancer overall.
  • Black men have lower 5-year survival rates for lung, colon, and pancreatic cancers compared to white men.

But, this disparity is changing. The overall cancer mortality rate is dropping faster in Blacks than in whites, mostly in 3 cancer types: lung, colon, and prostate.


American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) also experience poor cancer outcomes.

Cancer is the leading cause of death among AIAN women and the second leading cause of death among AIAN men.


Cancer is a leading cause of death among Latinx people.

Although Latinx people are less likely to be diagnosed with cancer compared to all other racial/ethnic groups except Asian and Pacific Islanders, cancer is the leading cause of death among Latinas and the second leading cause of death among Latinos.

Latinx people are the second least likely to be diagnosed with cancer, but cancer is a leading cause of death among Latinx people.

 

 

 

 

 

WHY ARE THERE DISPARITIES IN CANCER?

LACK OF ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is incredibly expensive, whether you have insurance or not. However, some communities are even more challenged when it comes to accessing care because: 

  • Lower-income communities often lack insurance and can’t afford medical care, particularly preventative care. This can result in poor prognosis and survival.
  • In 2018, the proportion of Black people living below the federal poverty level (23%) was more than double that of white people (11%). This directly affects how racial and ethnic groups are diagnosed with, treated for, and survive cancer. 

MEDICAL EXCLUSION

Medical research and education consistently exclude Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) patients. Case in point: 

  • Many doctors report that they were not taught to identify cancer on skin of color. 47% of dermatologists report that their medical training was inadequate in training them on skin conditions in Black patients, including skin cancer. Seriously, 47% .
  • BIPOC patients have historically been underrepresented in medical research, including cancer research. What does that mean? Well, if a treatment has not been tested on your community, it’s hard to trust that it will be effective in treating your cancer. 

LATE DIAGNOSIS

Due to an overall lack of access to care, many communities receive late cancer diagnoses, which in turn impacts their treatment options and chances of survival. For example:

  • Black, Latinx, and poor people are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer than white and/or wealthy people. 

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS AND RESIDENTIAL SEGREGATION 

The area you live in makes a difference to your cancer risk.

Did you know: 

  • Residential segregation is the physical separation of racial and ethnic groups into different neighborhoods. What does this have to do with cancer? Residential segregation limits access to quality health care, fresh produce, and recreational facilities, which all can increase your cancer risk.
  • Living near certain pollutants and environmental conditions can increase your cancer risk. Across the United States, people face cancers spurred by environmental factors all the time. 

DISTRUST OF MEDICAL SYSTEMS

Since its inception, healthcare in the United States has discriminated against BIPOC people, ranging from inconsistent care to conducting experiments on BIPOC people without consent. Centuries of racist violence has resulted in many BIPOC people being wary of doctors and the overall medical system.

Some of these experiences include:

  • A lack of doctors or medical interpreters who speak languages other than English can result in subpar care for non-English speaking patients.
  • Conscious or unconscious medical provider bias impacts how BIPOC people are treated in medical settings. 73% of Black cancer patients believe they receive worse care due to their race.
  • The Tuskegee Study — Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. government studied syphilis in poor Black men without their consent and, after a treatment was developed, did not provide the men with treatment. This caused needless pain and suffering for the men and their families. Due to the Tuskegee Study, many Black people in the U.S. hold a lingering mistrust of the medical community.

It’s critical that we all do more to achieve full equity across the cancer space.