Cancer deaths evident along socioeconomic lines


At Gilda’s Club Kansas City, we were pleased to learn last month that the American Cancer Society® reported that deaths from cancer have steadily declined over the last 25 years.

According to Facts & Figures, 2019, “As of 2016, the cancer death rate for men and women combined had fallen 27 percent from its peak in 1991.” The report continues to explain that this drop translates to more than 2.6 million deaths avoided between 1991 and 2016. Today, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U. S. 

The decline can be linked to long-term drops in death rates for the four major cancers — lung, colorectal, female breast, and prostate. Lung cancer mortality rates, which constitute a quarter of all cancer deaths, is the main cause of the decline in cancer deaths.

While this long-term decline shows promise, some disparities exist within certain populations. 

Facts & Figures, 2019, shares that the most notable disparity is socioeconomic status (SES). “People with lower socioeconomic status have higher cancer death rates than those with higher SES, regardless of demographic factors such as race/ethnicity.”

As an example, death rates in the poorest counties were twice as high for cervical cancer and 40 percent higher for male lung and liver cancer, compared to the richest counties. This is due to the fact that people living in the poorest counties are more likely to smoke, be obese, and are less likely to participate in routine screening. 

While the major cause of death for the overall U.S. population is heart disease, that is not the case for other racial/ethnic groups.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for the Hispanic population is cancer. On a national basis, Hispanics have lower rates for the most common cancers (female breast, colorectal, lung, and prostate), but among the highest rates for cancers associated with infectious agents.

Black males, overall, have the highest cancer incidence and death rates of major ethnic/racial groups. While white females and black females have essentially the same incidence of breast cancer, black females have a 40 percent higher breast cancer death rate. 

An estimated 42 percent of cancer cases and 45 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. are potentially preventable. Most notably, tobacco use remains the most preventable cause of cancer death. Roughly 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S., and 80 percent of lung cancer deaths, are attributed to smoking.

In addition to avoiding tobacco, a healthy, active lifestyle is another effective way to reduce cancer risk. 

Lastly, the earlier a person is diagnosed with cancer, generally the greater the survival rate. Regular check-ups with your physician and screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer can lead to early detection and, in some cases, prevention. 

At Gilda’s Club Kansas City, we know that no one wants to have a cancer diagnosis. However, when one does, we want to be there “so that no one faces cancer alone.”

We provide a professionally led, evidence-based program consisting of educational workshops, healthy lifestyle classes, counseling and support groups, and resource/referral services. Each is led by a licensed mental health professional and is free of charge.