African Americans and Lung Cancer

(April 13, 2010)

You may be aware that lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in America. But did you also know that if you are African American, you are more likely to develop lung cancer than any other population group in the U.S.? A new report by the American Lung Association explores this troubling disparity in lung health and delivers a call to action to end lung cancer’s lopsided toll on African Americans.

Troubling findings, complex causes
Too Many Cases, Too Many Deaths: Lung Cancer in African Americans, a new report just released by the American Lung Association examines lung cancer among African Americans and the need to eliminate this and other health disparities. The report – which includes a preface by noted oncologist William J. Hicks, M.D. – reveals the complex mix of biological, environmental, political and cultural factors that make African Americans more likely to get lung cancer and more likely to die from it. The findings are eye opening:

  • Despite lower smoking rates, African Americans are more likely to develop and die of lung cancer than whites.
  • African American men are 37 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, even though their overall exposure to cigarette smoke – the primary risk factor for lung cancer – is lower.
  • African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed later, when cancer is more advanced.
  • African Americans are more likely to wait longer after diagnosis to receive treatment, to refuse treatment, and to die in the hospital after surgery.

While the reasons for this unequal burden are not entirely clear, the report presents a compilation of research that examines smoking behavior, workplace exposures, genetics, access to healthcare, discrimination and social stress, as well as other possible contributors as to why African Americans are disproportionally affected by lung cancer.

A call for action
“While some progress has been made, especially in reducing smoking rates and exposure to secondhand smoke much remains to be done,” said Charles D. Connor, President and CEO of the American Lung Association. “Reducing lung cancer disparities needs to be a focused effort. The Lung Association stands ready to work with the healthcare industry as well as governments, community leaders and individuals, to eliminate the disparity of lung cancer in African Americans.”

The American Lung Association is calling for a series of steps to combat lung cancer in African Americans, including:

  • Increase funding for research on lung cancer and health disparities: http://action.lungusa.org/research_lungs
  • Enact and enforce proven policies to reduce tobacco use, including curbing cigarette advertising targeting youth, comprehensive smokefree air laws and coverage of tobacco cessation services are needed.
  • Address radon exposure in federal housing. Radon exposure is the number two cause of lung cancer after smoking.
  • Change the healthcare system to improve access to care, improve delivery of healthcare and reduce communication barriers between patients and providers.
  • Recruit more minorities to the healthcare field.
  • Encourage African American community and spiritual leaders to speak up about lung cancer and the importance of hope and trust in getting good care.

Concerned about lung cancer?
If you think you or someone you love may be at risk for lung cancer, don’t delay – learn more and take action now. If you have questions about lung cancer, American Lung Association nurses and respiratory therapists can provide answers and offer support to lung cancer patients and their caregivers through our Lung Helpline: 1-800-LUNG-USA. We also offer information about smoking cessation here and you can find out more about and lung cancer, including treatment options, here.

The Too Many Cases, Too Many Deaths: Lung Cancer in African Americans report is the American Lung Association’s first in a series taking an in-depth look at specific lung health disparities in specific populations. This report builds on the American Lung Association’s long-standing commitment to saving lives and improving lung health for all Americans. For a compendium of information about lung disease in various populations, see the recently released report: State of Lung Disease in Diverse Communities: 2010.