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Racial Gap in Cancer Mortality Rates Narrows

The American Cancer Society reports for some age and gender groups, the race-based disparity is now nearly nonexistent

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Black Americans die from cancer at a higher rate than white Americans, but a new study shows that disparity is shrinking, reports the Associated Press. The American Cancer Society released a report Thursday showing the cancer death rates for black Americans are coming closer to the rates for white Americans.

There are significant health risks associated with being black in America, reports Olga Khazan in The Atlantic. Currently, black Americans’ life expectancy is three years shorter than the average white American, with disparities as much as 20 years between races in some cities, including Baltimore.

Cancer-related death rates for black women have dropped from 19 to 13 percent in the past 25 years in comparison to white women, the AP reports. For men, that disparity has more than halved in the same time period, dropping from 47 to 19 percent. For men under 50 and women over 70, the mortality disparity is nearly nonexistent, the study shows. These continuous rates of decline translate to over 462,000 fewer cancer deaths, the study says.

Moreover, cancer survival rates are increasing more rapidly among black Americans than white Americans, reports Patti Neighmond for NPR. Death rates declined 1.5 percent per year among black women and 1.3 percent for white women. For men, the rate of decline was 2.6 percent per year for black men and 1.6 percent for white men.

Declining incidence and deaths involving prostate, colorectum and lung cancers drove the improvement, the study shows. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, acting chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told NPR these drops in cancer incidence are likely linked to the decline in smoking among black Americans.

"I can't say why smoking has decreased so dramatically in the black community but the fact that it has is very good news," he told NPR. "It has significantly narrowed the gap between blacks and whites and we are very grateful."

However, plenty of work is left to be done in improving health for black Americans: Out of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, blacks still have the lowest survival rate for most cancers, owing to the high number of black Americans living below the poverty line, Joseph P. Williams reports for U.S. News and World Report.

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