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Lung Cancer and African Americans

This form of cancer kills more people than colon, prostate and breast cancers combined

BHM Edit Staff | 10/14/2013, midnight
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in this country.

Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, kills more people than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. African Americans are more likely to develop lung cancer than any other group in this country.

An American Lung Association report found a complex mix of biological, environmental, political and cultural factors that make us more likely to get lung cancer and more likely to die from it. The report says:

  • Despite lower smoking rates, African Americans are more likely to develop and die of lung cancer than whites.
  • African-American men are 37 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, even though their overall exposure to cigarette smoke—the primary risk factor for lung cancer—is lower.
  • African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed later, when cancer is more advanced.
  • African Americans are more likely to wait longer after diagnosis to receive treatment, to refuse treatment and to die in the hospital after surgery.
  • African Americans have a lower five-year relative survival rate than whites.

The news isn't all bad. According to the National Cancer Institute, smoking rates have dropped, which has led the rate of lung cancer to decline among African-American men since the mid-1980s; it has

been stable among African-American women since 1990. Despite our higher numbers, the differences in lung cancer death rates between African Americans and whites are narrowing. We've also made progress in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. And, perhaps most importantly, the majority of lung cancer cases can be prevented. Experts say this is because about 90 percent of lung cancer cases in men and about 80 percent of those in women are caused by smoking. (Smoking also causes other cancers, including esophagus, throat, pancreatic, kidney and bladder cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, COPD and other health problems.)

Still, more needs to be done to address this health disparity. Steps include:

  • Enacting and enforcing policies to reduce tobacco use, including curbing cigarette advertising targeting youth, comprehensive smoke-free air laws and coverage of tobacco cessation services.
  • Addressing radon exposure in federal housing. Radon exposure is the number two cause of lung cancer.
  • Changing the health-care system to improve access to care, improve delivery of health care and reduce communication barriers between patients and providers.
  • Recruiting more minorities to the health-care field.
  • Encouraging African-American community and spiritual leaders to speak up about lung cancer.

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