Regardless of the type of cancer they’re diagnosed with, survival rates for African-Americans remain consistently lower than for white people, the Scientific American reports.

The article cites three new studies that show this unfavorable trend, all having been published in the journal, Cancer. 

Overall, the proportion of cancer patients alive five years after being diagnosed slightly improved from 2001-2003 and 2004-2009 (63.7 percent to 64.6 percent). But the five-year survival rate for African-Americans in the country was lower (54.7 percent and 56.6 percent) compared to 64.5 percent and 65.4 percent for whites.

“While colon and rectal cancer survival has improved over time, Black men and women continue to have lower survival than white men and women, and survival varied by state,” White said. “This suggests that access to and/or use of screening and treatment services varies by race and location. We need continued efforts to ensure that screening and high-quality treatment services are available and utilized universally. Screening for colorectal cancer is one of the most effective preventive services available.

Dr. Jacqueline W. Miller of the CDC researched breast cancer. Her and her patients studied the survival rates of breast cancer among roughly 1.4 million women diagnosed with the disease in 37 states between 2001 and 2009, and the results were similar.

The findings were sobering. For this particular period of study, researchers found the survival rates for Black women to be more than 10 percentage points lower than for white women. For example, between 2004 and 2009, five-year survival was 89.6 percent for white women versus 78.4 percent for Black women.

“The key to improving survival is early detection and appropriate treatment,” Miller added. “CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), provides low-income, uninsured, and underserved women access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services. Currently, the NBCCEDP funds all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 6 U.S. territories, and 13 American Indian/Alaska Native tribes and tribal organizations to provide screening services for breast and cervical cancer.

The third study confirmed what the first two already did. Dr. Sherri L. Stewart and her team over at the CDC examined racial disparities in ovarian cancer survival rates between 2001 and 2009.

For that particularly time period, ovarian cancer was much more prevalent among white women than Black women, and more than half of all cases were diagnosed after the cancer had spread to other areas.

In terms of five-year survival rates, percentage points were 10 percent lower in Black women than in white women. Just 31 percent of Black women survived for five years, compared with 42 percent of white women from 2004-2009.


“Recognizing early symptoms of ovarian cancer and seeking timely care may help lead to detection of the cancer at an earlier stage, where treatment is likely to be more effective,” Stewart told Reuters Health by email. “Symptoms, such as abdominal and back pain, feeling full quickly after eating, and frequent urination, are often present among women with ovarian cancer. Women should talk with their doctors if they experience any of these symptoms for two weeks or longer and the symptoms persist or worsen.”