Cancer Incidence and death rates are higher among African Americans

Cancer Incidence and death rates are higher among African Americans

Last Reviewed : 12/29/2020

The US Census Bureau estimates that in 2019 there were 43 million Americans who identified as non-Hispanic black or African American, comprising 13.4% of the total US population.1

African Americans are the second-largest racial/ethnic minority group in the US, coming after the Hispanics. The black population in the US is primarily concentrated in the South and includes individuals whose ancestors were brought to the United States as slaves, as well as immigrants and their descendants. Of the more than 3.6 million foreign-born blacks in the US in 2014, most were born in either Latin America (58%) or Africa (40%).

Important Stats

Incidence: National Cancer Institute projects about 1.8 million new cancer cases in 2020. About 93,990 cancer cases in men and 95,920 cases in women are expected to be newly diagnosed among blacks.

  1. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in black men, and breast cancer the most common in black women.
  2. Cancers of the lung and colorectum are the second- and third-most commonly diagnosed cancers in both black men and women.
  3. The four most common cancers (breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung) account for more than half of all cancer cases among blacks.

Deaths: National Cancer Institute estimates 606,520 deaths in the US in 2020. About 35,660 black men and 33,750 black women were expected to die from cancer.

  1. Lung cancer accounts for the largest number of cancer deaths among men (27%) and women (22%), followed by prostate cancer in men (12%) and then breast cancer in women (19%).
  2. For both men and women, colorectal cancer is expected to be the third leading cause of cancer death.
  3. Death rates related to cancers in blacks (all ages) is 227.3 per 100,000, whereas death rates among whites is 189.6 per 100,000. Death rates among children of 0-14 years are almost the same in both blacks and whites.

Reasons for the highest death rates among African Americans:

Blacks have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group in the United States for most cancers. The causes of these inequalities are complex and reflect social and economic disparities more than biological differences. Socioeconomic disparities reflect inequitable access to opportunities and resources, such as work, wealth, income, education, housing, and overall standard of living. Others include barriers to high-quality cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment information and services.

Although the overall racial disparity in cancer death rates is decreasing, in 2012, the death rate of all cancer cases combined was 24% higher in black men and 14% higher in black women than in white men and women, respectively.2



  1. US Census Bureau. PEPSR6H-Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States, States, and Counties: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014.
  2. National Cancer Institute.

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