Producers Resource Center

Blacks Hit Hardest By Lung Cancer

According to a new report from the American Lung Association, environmental factors, biological factors, cultural attitudes and biases in the health-care system conspire to make this deadly disease even deadlier among members of this minority group.

Despite lower smoking rates, African-Americans are more likely to develop and die from lung cancer than whites. African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed later when the cancer is more advanced. Also, African-Americans are more likely to wait longer after the diagnosis to receive treatment or perhaps to refuse treatment and to die in the hospital after surgery.

Black men bear an even more disproportionate share of the burden, being 37 percent more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer and 22 percent more likely to die of the disease than white men. 

Only 12 percent of blacks will be alive five years after their lung cancer diagnosis, compared with 16 percent of whites, according to the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance, a national trade organization. 

The ALA report points to a number of factors that could explain the disparity, including differences in socioeconomic status, big business behavior and environmental exposure.  Blacks have higher rates of smoking menthol cigarettes than other groups. Smokers of menthol cigarettes tend to have higher blood levels of cotinine, an indicator of how much nicotine a person is absorbing. 

Education and income levels also play a role. Not only do these factors impact lifestyle choices and access to health care, including health insurance, but they largely determine where blacks are likely to work and live.

According to one study, predominantly black neighborhoods have noticeably higher levels of air pollution than other communities.

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