Cancer in African American people: What to know

cancer in black people

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Overall, Black people have higher cancer rates than non-Black people, particularly for prostate and breast cancer. Individuals and their families can be devastated by racial inequities in cancer awareness, diagnosis, and treatment.

In addition to the foregoing, the American Cancer Society claims that black people have higher overall death rates for numerous forms of cancer than other populations.

Prostate cancer is twice as common in black men as it is in white men, and breast cancer is 40 percent more common in black women than in white women.

Various variables play a role in racial discrepancies, as they do in most cases. These include the cumulative impacts of racism, medical care access, treatment disparities, and more.

Continue reading to discover more about cancer racial inequalities, which cancers are more common among African Americans, and how people may get an early diagnosis.

Some important facts

cancer in black people

The following are some key facts concerning cancer among African Americans:

  • Prostate cancer accounted for one-third of new cancers among Black males in 2016. Lung and colon cancers made up one-quarter.
  • Black females are nearly twice as likely to die of endometrial cancer than white females.
  • In 2016, the most common cancers among Black females were breast, lung, and colorectal cancers.
  • Black people have higher death rates from cancer than any other group.
  • Black people are less likely to develop melanoma, an aggressive skin cancer. However, when they do, they are more likely to die. Delayed diagnosis contributes to this higher death rate.
  • In 2019, 11.4% of Black people under the age of 65 years did not have health insurance. The figure for white people was 7.8%.

inequalities in cancer outcomes

Racial differences in cancer are caused by a variety of variables.

Racism in medicine

In the healthcare field, racial discrepancies are widespread. For example, one in every three Black woman claims to have encountered racism in the doctor’s office.

A healthcare professional’s assessment of an individual’s symptoms may be influenced by racist prejudices, and they may be less inclined to offer specific tests or treatments. Black men, for example, have a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer. However, a 2019 study indicated that when they receive same nonmetastatic prostate cancer therapy as white men, their results are similar.

Doctors may also be less receptive to Black people’s complaints regarding pain or symptoms. According to a 2016 survey of medical students and residents, half of them accepted at least one racist stereotype about Black people, such as that they have stronger skin or experience less pain than white people.

Many doctors may be less aware about Black health due to racial prejudices.

Although black people are less likely to get melanoma than non-Hispanic people, they are more likely to die from it. This is because some clinicians are unfamiliar with the appearance of melanoma on Black skin, which can lead to a delayed diagnosis.

Because of a long history of racism in medicine, some people may be wary of physicians. They may postpone or refuse care due to a lack of trust, or they may deny interventions.

Socioeconomic disparities

In the United States, Black people are more likely to be poor than Asian, Hispanic, or white people. Many people are left socioeconomically vulnerable and, in many cases, without health insurance as a result of this.

Poor health results can be exacerbated by a lack of access to quality healthcare, comprehensive insurance, or time off work to see a doctor.

underlying medical issues

Other than cancer, black people may be more prone than white people to have or acquire certain health issues.

Black males, for example, have a higher risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease than non-Hispanic white males. Having one of these conditions increases the risk of dying from prostate cancer.

According to some research, genetic variations may have a role in cancer outcomes.

This claim, however, is debatable because race is a sociological rather than a biological construct. Because genes are spread across racial groupings, genetic inferences cannot be drawn only on the basis of race.

The most prevalent cancers in Black people

Certain cancers are more common among Black people.

Cancers that affect Black women on a regular basis

The following are the most prevalent cancers among Black females, as well as their percentage of overall cancers:

Common cancers in Black males

The following are the most prevalent cancers among Black men, as well as their percentage of overall cancers:

The importance of early diagnosis

Cancer causes uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. The longer this development is allowed to go uncontrolled, the more harm it may cause to a person’s health. Later-stage cancers are frequently more difficult to treat and have a poor prognosis.

However, an early cancer diagnosis generally ensures that more treatment options are available. It also lowers the chances of dying from cancer, as well as the quantity of adverse effects and treatment costs.

However, for many types of cancer, Black people have longer wait times for diagnosis.

In Black people, for example, doctors typically identify breast cancer at a later stage. According to research, whereas 64% of white women with breast cancer have an early diagnosis, only 54% of black women with breast cancer receive one.

This shows that breast cancer fatality inequalities are caused by diagnostic delays rather than prevalence.

Groups that provide assistance

Anyone who has cancer knows how difficult it is to live with the disease. However, when a person is confronted with institutional racism, the health repercussions of years of discrimination, clinicians who may not be experienced with Black health, and a higher chance of mortality, support is especially important.

People can benefit from support groups in a variety of ways, including:

  • recommending culturally competent doctors
  • offering strategies for managing symptoms
  • providing a sounding board and compassion
  • supporting people to advocate for themselves
  • cultivating strategies to deal with ineffective healthcare professionals or health systems

Local advocacy and civil rights organizations may offer cancer support groups which people can contact for assistance. Other alternatives for assistance include:


Racism in medicine and a healthcare system that regards white bodies as the norm encounter a number of challenges for black people with cancer. Thousands of people die each year as a result of these hurdles, as well as varying cancer patterns and diagnostic rates.

A person can discover a doctor that knows and cares about Black people with cancer by speaking with friends or family members. People can also speak up if they believe they are being treated unfairly in a medical environment and seek a second opinion.

Individual strategies can save lives, but the healthcare system as a whole must aim to erase racial inequities and negative prejudices in the long run.