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Minorities and Cancer, The Statistics

Cancer exacts a higher toll in African Americans than in whites nationally and statewide.  Mortality is higher across virtually all tumor types and stages.   Even in patients with similar stages of disease at presentation, survival is worse for African Americans. Across all cancers diagnosed in Maryland, more African Americans present with advanced disease.  Nationally, only 59 percent of African Americans diagnosed with cancer survive five years compared to 69 percent of those of white race.

In Maryland more cancers are diagnosed in African American adults -432 new cases per 100,000-compared to 447 new cases in whites.  Male African Americans share the heaviest burden in this disparity in incidence.  Cancer mortality also is higher in African Americans, where 193 per 100,000 will die compared to 177 Caucasians.  Although cancer mortality has generally decreased, the age-adjusted morality rate is 9% higher in African American males than in white malesstatewide.

The continued difference in survival from cancer between African Americans and whites is concerning.  While the reasons are not completely understood, most clinicians agree that timely and adequate access to healthcare is an issue, since patients in higher socio-economic levels have better outcomes than minorities and economically disadvantaged groups.  Molecular mechanisms including differences in gene expression also are likely involved, and may account for differences in tumor behavior and response to therapy.  The genes involved may prove to be excellent diagnostic and therapeutic targets.

The Howard University Cancer Center and the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins formed a partnership in 2001 to address the many components of this ongoing problem.   The partnership has a four pronged approach to the dilemma - Research, Outreach, Education and Training and has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.