10 Things To Know About Cancer Risks And Black America

10 Things To Know About Cancer Risks And Black America

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10 Things To Know About Cancer Risks And Black America. Image Credit: DMEPhotography / iStock https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/DMEPhotography?mediatype=photography

Chadwick Boseman changed the face of pop culture in his role as the Marvel Comics superhero the Black Panther in the groundbreaking 2018 film, but he was already sick with colon cancer and did not have long to enjoy his spectacular success. Boseman died in 2020 at age 43 after a four-year battle with the disease, raising awareness that Black Americans are more likely than others to die of cancer.

Despite reduced cancer and mortality rates in all U.S. population groups, Black Americans are more likely to get cancer and die from it compared to others, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Cancers cases and deaths have been on the decline due to early diagnosis, advanced treatment, and increased public awareness of the need for regular screenings.

But health disparities and susceptibility to certain cancer types still persist among Black Americans, pushing up the death rate for most cancers.

Cervical, lung and breast cancer kill Black women at higher rates than white.

Black women in the U.S. are 42 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, which is a shocking number, and the disparity should not be that high, according to Kerry-Ann McDonald, a breast surgical oncologist at Lynn Cancer Institute in Boca Raton, part of Baptist Health South Florida.

“Not only are Black and African-American women more at risk for developing breast cancer than any other type of cancer; they’re also twice as likely to be diagnosed with triple-negative inflammatory breast tests,“ McDonald said.

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Black American men also have a higher mortality rate for prostate, lung, colorectal, liver, and pancreatic cancer. Although prostate cancer deaths have decreased over the last decades, Black men are twice likely to die from it than whites.

The disparities are caused by several factors including lack of financial wellbeing, lower access to quality healthcare and quality health insurance, and social determinants of health, behavior, biology, and genetics, according to Dr. Sarah Joseph, M.D., a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute.

These disparities can be reduced by avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol intake, expanding health care coverage, which involves affordable health insurance and improved access to health care, providing more outlets for a healthy lifestyle including diet and exercise, and developing vaccinations that prevent cervical cancer, according to Dr. Joseph.

Here are 10 things to know about cancer risks and Black America:

1. Breast cancer mortality rate higher in Black women

Black women are losing the battle against breast cancer at higher rates of 40 percent in the U.S. compared to white women. The large difference is caused by several reasons including cancer types, according to Elizabeth Sawyer, medical director of the Breast Care Center at Cape Fear Valley Health.

“African American women tend to have more aggressive types of breast cancer and that type I’m talking about is called triple-negative breast cancer. There is a disproportionate amount of that type of cancer diagnosis in African American women,” Sawyer told The Fayetteville Observer. 

About 10 percent of women overall are diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer but about 15 percent to 18 percent of African American women are diagnosed with it.

The main reasons for Black women dying at a higher rate is lack of finances, lack of health insurance and limited access to fresh foods, Sawyer said.

“There’s a lot of obesity in women below the poverty line that we see is a risk factor for developing breast cancer,” she Sawyer.

Women regardless of race are advised to get regular mammograms beginning at age 40. Those with immediate family members, like a mother or sister who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, should get screened a decade sooner, according to Sawyer.

2. African Americans have a higher risk of being diagnosed with most cancers

African Americans have an increased risk of being diagnosed with most cancers and they experience poorer outcomes after diagnosis including both cancer-specific and nonspecific mortality, according to a study by the Detroit Research on Cancer Survivors on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on African American cancer survivors.

Recent studies have shown that people diagnosed with cancer are at increased risk of severe covid-19 infection.

3. Colin Powell died of covid-19 amid cancer battle

The first Black U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell died of complications from covid-19 even though he was fully vaccinated, according to reports from his family.

It is thought that he was immunocompromised since he had Parkinson’s disease as well as multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response.

Black people diagnosed with cancer within a year, especially those with breast cancer, are at a higher risk of being infected with covid-19. They also have more severe complications once they are infected, according to a study done by researchers from Case Western Reserve University.

4. African American men have disproportionately higher risks of prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among Black men and according to doctors the best chance of survival is early diagnosis.

“Compared with other racial and ethnic groups, Black African American individuals have disproportionately higher rates of prostate cancer incidence and mortality,” according to research released by Dr. Neal, D. Shore.

Men age 40 and older who have more than one first-degree relative who had prostate cancer at an early age are at a higher risk of getting prostate cancer and are encouraged to be screened.

5. Black men with lung cancer respond better to immunotherapy than white men

Black men suffering from non-small cell lung cancer were found to respond better to immunotherapy treatment and had a lower death rate than white men under the same treatment, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute.

“Researchers found that non-Hispanic Black patients had a 15 percent lower risk of death than non-Hispanic white patients,” authors of the study indicated in October.

The 2020 AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report, however, found mixed results about whether African Americans were equally likely to receive immunotherapy treatment as white Americans. 

6. Black Americans’ enrolment in clinical trials is improving despite dark history

A history of abuse in the name of research has created real and well-founded fear and skepticism of clinical trials among African Americans. Clinical trials often have low enrolment of African Americans but that may be changing. A study by the Morehouse School of Medicine showed that the number of Black Americans enrolling for cancer clinical trials is on the rise.

“Rates of enrolment in a colorectal cancer screening study of African Americans from an HBCU is similar to Caucasian enrolment at other sites,” the authors of the study said.

7. A black woman’s cervical cancer cells were the first to be successfully cloned

Cervical cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks (HeLa) taken from her tumor in 1951 before she died of cervical cancer became the first human cells to be successfully cloned.

HeLa cells have been reproduced infinitely ever since and have become a cornerstone of modern medicine, enabling countless scientific and medical innovations, including the development of the polio vaccine, genetic mapping and even covid-19 vaccines.

Lacks’ family is suing a biotechnology company for selling the cells without her consent that doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital used to make the first clone.

8. Louisiana’s ‘Cancer Alley’ has the highest rate of cancer in the U.S.

Black working-class residents of the 85-mile stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as the River Parishes have some of the highest rates of early cancer and cancer deaths in the U.S. Black people make up 41.5 percent of the population in the area, which has been nicknamed Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”.

Studies have shown that the high rates of cancer in the region could be the result of the polluting emissions and carcinogens that for decades have been pumped into the environment by more than 100 petrochemical plants and refineries found in the River Parishes.

“Environmental racism is a human rights violation,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. Odoms spoke in a video statement to the Human Rights Council calling on the Biden administration to take aggressive protective measures. “Remedies are needed now in Black and other communities of color suffering from toxic industrial pollution,” she said.

9. Black people can get skin cancer but are largely misdiagnosed

While skin cancer is less common among Black people, they too can get skin cancer. One case of melanoma occurs per 100,000 Black people compared with 25 cases per 100,000 white people.

Many times, skin cancer is misdiagnosed in Black people until it is in its later stages. The American Academy of Dermatology reports that 25 percent of melanomas in Black people are diagnosed after the cancer has already spread to surrounding lymph nodes, making it harder to treat.

There exists no study demonstrating that sunscreen reduces skin cancer risk in Black people.

10. New cancer screening rules could help Black smokers

Black smokers smoke less than white, but more die of heart attacks, strokes and other causes linked to tobacco use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

New cancer screening regulations could help more Black smokers in the U.S. get their annual screening and detect lung cancer early, NBC News reported in March. New screening guideline changes now require anyone between age 50 and 80 who has smoked at least 20 “pack-years” and either still smokes or quit within the last 15 years, to be checked, according to the  U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

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