Show an ad over header. AMP

Cancer death rates are dropping but Black Americans still face highest risk

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios 

There's some good news in 2020: Cancer death rates have been falling overall, and the gap between racial and ethnic groups has been narrowing.

Yes, but: Decades of systemic racism and the structures developed under it continue to limit the ability of Americans to benefit equally from cancer advances, some medical experts tell Axios, as seen by Black Americans who've had the highest death rate from cancer for 40 years. And the pandemic is expected to exacerbate the problem further.


"When we talk about even the folks who are caring for those underserved groups — the numbers of researchers and of doctors — there are disparities there. When we talk about funding, most of our underserved patients get their care at under-resourced places. It's a continuum, and it's all because there were structures [based on systemic racism] set up long ago."
Loretta Erhunmwunsee, a City of Hope thoracic surgeon, tells Axios

Driving the news: The American Association for Cancer Research on Wednesday issued its first annual cancer disparities progress report intended to be a "baseline" for watching trends, says John Carpten, chair of the report's steering committee and of the AACR Minorities in Cancer Research Council.

  • "Socioeconomic issues, financial toxicities and health care inequities in general are definitely the foundation of many of the disparities that we know exist," Carpten tells Axios.
  • "And, without dealing with and addressing and mitigating those issues, no matter what we do to improve our understanding of cancer, all of that will be moot."

The good news: Overall cancer death rates dropped for all groups from 2000 to 2017...

  • 30% for African Americans.
  • 20% for white people, Hispanics and Asians/Pacific Islanders.
  • 11% for American Indians/Alaska Natives.

The bad news: The report says cancer burden disparities are evident in many areas, like...

  • African American men and women face a greater risk of dying from prostate cancer (111%) and breast cancer (39%), respectively, compared to their white counterparts.
  • Hispanic youths are more likely to develop leukemia than white youths, with a 20% higher risk for Hispanic children and a 38% higher risk for Hispanic adolescents.
  • Asian/Pacific Islander adults are twice as likely to die from stomach cancer than white adults.
  • Poor men have a 35% higher death rate for colorectal cancer than wealthy men.
  • Bisexual women are 70% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than heterosexual woman.

Lack of diversity in both the health care workforce and in clinical trials is also a problem.

  • "Less than 11% of researchers in the U.S. are members of underrepresented groups," says Antoni Ribas, president of AACR, who spoke Wednesday at a congressional briefing on the report.
  • "AACR is also extremely concerned that racial and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented in cancer research and clinical trials, especially because the different ages, races and ethnicities may respond differently to cancer treatments," Ribas says.

Between the lines: Further research is needed to better understand the importance of any biological or genetic differences, says Namandjé Bumpus, professor and chair of the pharmacology department at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

  • "There's this promise of precision medicine, but we don't even have the data or information to be able to leverage precision medicine for a lot of people," Bumpus tells Axios.
  • "Cancer really is a prime space for precision medicine. Both in the context of figuring out what works best for certain tumors and tumor types and people because of the genetics of their cancer, but also because of the flip side, the genetics of their drug response," she says.
  • Carpten, who is also professor and a department chair at USC Keck School of Medicine, agrees and says research has started to grow as technology advances and interest has been sparked.
  • "We're starting to see molecular differences in the characteristics of cancers from individuals of different degrees of genetic ancestry ... and these differences have been observed in diseases like prostate cancer, breast cancer, multiple myeloma, and colon and colorectal cancers," he adds.
  • Some initiatives on this include the AACR's Project GENIE and the NCI-funded AMBER Consortium, which studies breast cancer in African American women.

What's next: Ribas says AACR has formed a task force to call on policymakers and stakeholders to work on concrete actions to alleviate cancer disparities.

Go deeper: The cost of racial disparities in clinical trials

The norms around science and politics are cracking

Crafting successful public health measures depends on the ability of top scientists to gather data and report their findings unrestricted to policymakers.

State of play: But concern has spiked among health experts and physicians over what they see as an assault on key science protections, particularly during a raging pandemic. And a move last week by President Trump, via an executive order, is triggering even more worries.

Keep reading... Show less

Apple sets September quarter sales record despite pandemic

Apple on Thursday reported quarterly sales and earnings that narrowly exceeded analysts estimates as the iPhone maker continued to see strong demand amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What they's saying: The company said response to new products, including the iPhone 12 has been "tremendously positive" but did not give a specific forecast for the current quarter.

Keep reading... Show less

Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening, both in the U.S. and abroad, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths all rising.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of global vaccine development — including why the U.S. and China seem to going at it alone — with medicinal chemist and biotech blogger Derek Lowe.

How central banks can save the world

The trillion-dollar gap between actual GDP and potential GDP is a gap made up of misery, unemployment, and unfulfilled promise. It's also a gap that can be eradicated — if central banks embrace unconventional monetary policy.

  • That's the message from Eric Lonergan and Megan Greene, two economists who reject the idea that central banks have hit a "lower bound" on interest rates. In fact, they reject the idea that "interest rates" are a singular thing at all, and they fullthroatedly reject the idea — most recently put forward by New York Fed president Bill Dudley — that the Fed is "out of firepower."

Why it matters: If Lonergan and Greene are right, then central banks have effectively unlimited ammunition in their fight to increase inflation and employment. They are limited only by political will.

Keep reading... Show less

Leon Black says he "made a terrible mistake" doing business with Jeffrey Epstein

Apollo Global Management CEO Leon Black on Wednesday said during an earnings call that he made a "terrible mistake" by employing Jeffrey Epstein to work on personal financial and philanthropic services.

Why it matters: Apollo is one of the world's largest private equity firms, and already has lost at least one major client over Black's involvement with Epstein.

Keep reading... Show less

Jeremy Corbyn suspended by U.K. Labour Party over anti-Semitism report

The U.K. Labour Party has suspended its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, after a watchdog report found that the party failed to properly take action against allegations of anti-Semitism during his time in charge.

Why it matters: It represents a strong break by Keir Starmer, Labour's current leader, from the Corbyn era and one of the party's most persistent scandals.

Keep reading... Show less

U.S. economy sees record growth in third quarter

The U.S. economy grew at a 33.1% annualized pace in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

The state of play: The record growth follows easing of the coronavirus-driven lockdowns that pushed the economy to the worst-ever contraction — but GDP still remains well below its pre-pandemic level.

Keep reading... Show less

Investors have nowhere to hide

The massive losses in oil prices and U.S. and European equities were not countered by gains in traditional safe-haven assets on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The unusual movement in typical hedging tools like bonds, precious metals and currencies means they are not providing investors an asset that will appreciate in the event of a major equity selloff.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories