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Examples of Cancer Health Disparities

Cancer affects people of all races and ethnicities in the U.S.; however, the burden is greater for certain populations. Below are selected statistics that illustrate the impact of cancer health disparities by socioeconomic status, racial/ethnic group, and cancer type.

Cancer Disparities by Socioeconomic Status and Medically Underserved Populations

  • People with lower socioeconomic status (SES) have disproportionately higher cancer death rates than those with higher SES, regardless of demographic factors such as race/ethnicity. (American Cancer Society-ACS)
  • Studies have found that SES factors are associated with an individual’s or group’s risk of developing and surviving cancer— more than race or ethnicity. SES factors include access to education, certain occupations, health insurance, and living conditions—including exposure to environmental toxins.
  • SES appears to play a major role in influencing the prevalence of behavioral risk factors for cancer (for example, tobacco smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, excessive alcohol intake, and health status), as well as in following cancer screening recommendations.
  • Individuals from medically underserved populations are more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage diseases that might have been treated more effectively or cured if diagnosed earlier.

Cancer Disparities by Racial/Ethnic Groups

African Americans

  • For all cancers combined, cancer incidence rates between 2007 through 2011 were the highest overall in black men (587.7 per 100,000 men) compared to any other racial or ethnic group. (NCI)
  • African Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. (DHHS Office of Minority Health- OMH)
  • For all cancers combined, the death rate is 25 percent higher for African Americans/blacks than for whites.
  • African American women with cancer have higher death rates despite them having a lower risk of cancer overall (compared to white women).  (ACS)
  • African American men have lower 5-year cancer survival rates for lung, colon, and pancreatic cancers compared to non-Hispanic white men. (DHHS OMH)

American Indian and Alaska Native

  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death among Native Americans over age 45. (NCI)
  • While overall cancer mortality rates from 2001 through 2010 decreased by 1.4 percent per year among whites and by 2.1 percent per year among African Americans/blacks, they decreased by only 0.7 percent per year among American Indians and Alaska Natives.(NCI)
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to have the poorest 5-year survival rates among all racial and ethnic groups, for all cancers combined. (NCI)

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders

  • Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest incidence rates for both liver and stomach cancers and are twice as likely to die from these cancers as whites. This may be caused by a higher prevalence of infections with hepatitis B virus (liver cancer) and the bacterium H. pylori (stomach cancer). (ACS)  
  • Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders are 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites. (DHHS OMH)


  • Hispanics and Latinos have the highest rates for cancers associated with infection, such as liver, stomach, and cervical cancers. Higher prevalence of infection with human papillomavirus (cervical cancer), hepatitis B virus (liver cancer), and the bacterium H. pylori (stomach cancer) in immigrant countries of origin contributes to these disparities. (ACS)
  • Although Hispanics and Latinos have lower incidence and death rates for the most common cancers than non-Hispanic whites, they are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of disease. (NCI)


Disparities by Cancer Type


  • Where breast cancer rates stabilized between 2002 and 2011 in non-Hispanic white women, rates continue to increase among African American/black women. (JNCI)
  • African American/black women are more likely to die from breast cancer despite white women having higher incidence rates for the disease.
  • African American women are almost 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women. (DHHS OMH)
  • African American women with breast cancer are less likely than white women to survive five years after diagnosis. The survival rate among African American women is 71 percent, compared to 86 percent among whites. (JNCI)
  • Recent NCI-supported research indicates that aggressive breast tumors are more common in younger African American/black and Hispanic/Latino women living in low SES areas. This more aggressive form of breast cancer is less responsive to standard cancer treatments and is associated with poorer survival.
  • Rates for triple-negative breast cancers (HR-/HER2-) were highest among non-Hispanic black women compared with all other racial/ethnic groups with an age-adjusted rate of 27.2 per 100,000 women; a rate 1.9 times higher than the non-Hispanic white rate, 2.3 times higher than the Hispanic rate, and 2.6 times higher than the non-Hispanic API (NHAPI) rate. (JNCI)
  • Overall, compared with non-Hispanic white women, African American/black women are screened less frequently for breast cancer, are more likely to have advanced disease when a diagnosis is made, have a poorer prognosis for a given stage of disease, and have less access to medical care. (NCI)


  • African American/black women are more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer compared to white women in the general U.S. population.
  • Despite recent declines in cervical cancer overall, African American women with cervical cancer have higher mortality rates than women of any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.
  • Hispanic women are almost twice as likely to have cervical cancer and 1.4 times more likely to die from cervical cancer as compared to non-Hispanic white women. (DHHS OMH)
  • The disproportionate burden of cervical cancer in Hispanic/Latino and African American women is primarily due to a lack of screening.
  • Among Asian Americans, incidence rates for cervical cancer are almost three times higher in Vietnamese women than in Chinese and Japanese women. (ACS)


  • African Americans have higher mortality rates and higher incidence rates of colorectal cancer than all other racial/ethnic groups, except American Indians/Alaska Natives.


  • Kidney cancer incidence and mortality rates are twice as high in men as in women.
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives have higher kidney cancer incidence and mortality rates than any other racial/ethnic groups in the United States.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native women are 40 percent more likely to have kidney/renal pelvis cancer than non-Hispanic white women. (DHHS OMH)


  • The incidence rates of liver cancer for Asian American/Pacific Islander men and women are 2.4 and 2.7 times greater, respectively, than those of non-Hispanic white men and women. (DHHS OMH)
  • Both Hispanic men and women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with and to die from liver cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites. (DHHS OMH)


  • African American/black men and women have the highest incidence of lung cancer compared to the general U.S. population.
  • Mortality rates from lung cancer are highest among African American males than other population groups.

Multiple Myeloma

  • African Americans have approximately twice the incidence and mortality rates of multiple myeloma than the general U.S. population.


  • African Americans have higher rates of pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality than any other racial or ethnic group.


  • One in five (20 percent) African American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. (ACS)
  • African American men have the highest incidence rate for prostate cancer in the U.S. and are more than twice as likely as white men to die of the disease. (NCI)
  • Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among African American men. (ACS)


  • Incidence rates of stomach cancer are highest in American Indians/Alaska Natives, followed by Hispanics/Latinos, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, and African Americans. (ACS)
  • Mortality rates from stomach cancer are highest in Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders and African Americans, followed by Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians/Alaska Natives, and whites.
  • African American women are 2.4 times as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer, and 2.5 times as likely to die from stomach cancer, compared to non-Hispanic white women. (DHHS OMH)
  • Asian/Pacific Islander men are twice as likely to die from stomach cancer compared to the non-Hispanic white population, and Asian/Pacific Islander women are 2.7 times as likely to die from the same disease. (DHHS OMH)
  • Hispanic women are 2.2 times more likely to have stomach cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women. (DHHS OMH)