Raising Cancer Awareness Among Minority Groups

Every April, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center works to raise awareness about cancer among minority populations by recognizing National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, celebrated this year April 8-14, 2019.

While we make progress every year in reducing deaths from cancer, the disease continues to be a bigger burden to minority and underserved populations. In general, minority groups in the United States are more likely to die from certain cancers than the general population, a difference known as a cancer health disparity. Scientists at Roswell Park study cancer health disparities, and while they don’t have all the answers, some causes include genetics and a lack of access to cancer screening and timely treatment services.

Here's what you should know about the four most common cancers among people of color, and what you can do to prevent them.

Breast Cancer:

According to the American Cancer Society, over 33,000 African American and 24,000 Hispanic/Latino women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019. Breast cancer is projected to be the leading cause of cancer death in Hispanic women (3,200) this year, and more than 6,000 African American women will die from breast cancer in 2019.

Obesity is a major risk factor for breast cancer, and a 2016 Roswell Park-led study found that physical activity may reduce breast cancer risk for African-American women. The study found that two or more hours of weekly, vigorous exercise — such as running, walking/climbing briskly up a hill, fast cycling, and participation in sports — was associated with a decreased breast cancer risk of up to 12%.

Women of childbearing age can reduce their breast cancer risk by breastfeeding. This is especially important for women of color, as studies show breastfeeding protects against triple-negative breast cancer. This is a more aggressive kind of breast cancer that is more common in African-American women.

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Prostate Cancer:

This year, more Hispanic (13,900) and African American (29,570) men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer than any other cancer type.

Approximately one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life, and one in 36 will die as a result of the disease. African-American men are one and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and are more than twice as likely to die from the disease.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center follows the Prostate Cancer Early Detection Guidelines established by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. These guidelines encourage men to receive a baseline-screening exam at age 45 for comparison with future tests. The results of this baseline test will determine the recommended frequency of screening exams moving forward. For African Americans and men with a family history of prostate cancer, annual screening should begin at age 40. Evaluating the result of a prostate cancer early detection test should be done on a case-by-case basis and take into consideration a man’s age, life expectancy, family history, race and previous early detection results.

Lung Cancer:

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. About 80% of lung cancer deaths and 40% of all cancer deaths overall are caused by tobacco use.

If you don’t use tobacco products, don’t start. If you do, quit. For help quitting, call the New York State Smokers' Quitline for free help in English or Spanish, at 1-866-NYQUITS (1-866-697-8487) or visit www.nysmokefree.com.

Screening for lung cancer with a low-dose CT scan is also available at Roswell Park for people with certain risk factors, including those 50 or older who have smoked in last 15 years and have more than 20 pack/years of smoking history. A pack/year is defined as one pack of smoking per day per year; or if you smoke more than that, say two packs a day, you would only need 15 years of that to qualify.

Colorectal Cancer:

Colorectal Cancer is very treatable when caught early, but it remains the third- leading cause of cancer-related deaths among African American and Hispanic populations, in both men and women. Colorectal cancer is often preventable through screening and early detection.

Roswell Park recommends regular colorectal screening starting at age 45. African Americans are advised to start screening earlier. Other Several screening tests are available, so speak with your physician about which one you should schedule.

Quit smoking, limiting consumption of red meat and alcohol, avoiding processed meats (such as hot dogs, deli meats, bacon or sausage), regular exercise and controlling your weight are all ways to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

Many other minority groups are susceptible to different types of cancers based on their ethnicity and culture. Check out some of our other blogs to learn more information:

East Asian:

“Asian Flush” Waves Red Flag for Cancer Risk

Breast Cancer Rates Rising Among Japanese Women

Native Americans:

Native American Cancer Risks


Can People of Color Get Skin Cancer?

During National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, Learn Six Ways You Can Protect Yourself

Roswell Park actively works to reduce cancer health disparities by improving access to all our services, offering community cancer education programs in both English and Spanish in Buffalo and rural Western New York communities and addressing socioeconomic barriers that keep many people from seeking medical help.