Skip to Main Content
6 Ways Black and African Americans Can Improve Their Cancer Odds

6 Ways Black and African Americans Can Improve Their Cancer Odds

June 16, 2023 Posted in: Cancer Care  5 minute read time


Research shows that approximately 42% of cancers are potentially avoidable, including 19% caused by smoking. Yet, Black and African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the United States for most cancers. 

Kidney cancer, for example, is more common in Black people than in those of other ethnicities, and the death rate is higher. Black women have the highest mortality rate from breast cancer compared to members of other races. They also have a higher mortality rate for cervical cancer, whose survival rate is 91% when detected early. That means that when caught early, most women survive at least five years after being diagnosed.

Socioeconomic factors and lack of medical care access contribute to these disparities, as does misinformation. Knowing your cancer risk and taking steps to lower your chances is important. Here are six steps Black and African Americans can take to reduce their cancer risk.

1. Know your risk.

Everyone should know their cancer risk. That's especially true for African Americans, who are more likely to carry genetic variants for breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Find out your family health history and ask your doctor how this impacts your likelihood of certain cancers. Tell your doctor about your alcohol use and smoking history, and ask about vaccines you may need to reduce your risk for some cancers. Understanding common risk factors for most cancers is your best defense against cancer. 

2. Get vaccinated.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a prevalent virus that can cause up to six types of cancer. While there is no treatment for HPV, there is a vaccine that can help prevent it. The HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical, anal, vaginal, ear, throat and neck cancers. The vaccine is recommended for boys and girls as early as age 9 and some unvaccinated adults.

Another vaccine most people, including babies, children and adolescents, should get is the hepatitis vaccine. It protects against hepatitis B, a liver disease that can lead to liver cancer. Getting these vaccinations on time can lower your risk of getting hepatitis B and HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor about other vaccines you may need to stay healthy. 

3. Listen to your body.

Recognizing changes in your body can help you prevent serious medical problems. First, learn what your body generally looks and feels like, and tell your doctor if you notice something abnormal. Think of things like a sore that won’t heal, lumps in the breast or other parts of your body, blood in your stool or urine or changes in the size or color of a mole. You should report anything that’s not considered normal for you. Remember, spotting cancer at an early stage can save lives.

4. Get screened.

Cancer is harder to treat after it spreads to other parts of the body, making early detection essential. Regular screenings can detect cancer in its earliest stages when treatment works best. It can even prevent most colon, rectum and cervical cancers, as they begin as non-cancerous tissue. Unfortunately, cancer screening rates are lower among Black populations. Talk to your doctor about which screening tests are right for you and when and how frequently you should get screened. Screening recommendations vary based on age and your likelihood of developing certain cancers.

5. Choose a healthy lifestyle.

Proper nutrition and regular exercise don’t guarantee cancer prevention but might reduce your risk for many types of cancer. For example, there’s a link between physical inactivity and a higher risk of bladder, breast, colon, kidney and stomach cancers. Similarly, obesity and being overweight increase your risk for many types of cancer, including colorectal, breast, endometrial, and kidney. Alcohol and tobacco use are also to blame for many kinds of cancer and should be limited or avoided altogether. Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying active are essential habits that will improve your health in more ways than one.

6. Join a clinical trial.

Clinical trials for lifesaving therapies wouldn’t be possible without people. In fact, clinical trials are most successful when people from different backgrounds are part of the study. That’s because people may experience the same disease differently based on race and ethnicity, age, gender, heredity, and other factors. Additionally, experts recommend that people of all races and ethnicities donate specimens to national genetic databases for cancer research. These databases often lack samples from different populations and people with rare cancers. Finally, patients who participate in cancer clinical trials have improved outcomes compared to patients who do not.

The takeaway

Early detection is often your best protection against cancer. Ask your CHI Saint Joseph Health health care provider for a cancer screening schedule, or find a provider today.

Recent Articles

Colon Cancer on the Rise Among Young Adults: 3 Factors that Increase Your Risk

MAR 05, 2024

Once considered a disease of older adults, colon cancer is now becoming more common in people under 50. Read on to understand the three most common risk factors you can change or modify to help lower your colon cancer risk.

Read More Additional information about 3 Factors that Increase Your Risk for Colon Cancer

Early Detection is Key

JAN 11, 2024

CHI Saint Joseph Health offers a comprehensive range of cancer screenings to help you get the treatment you may need as soon as possible.

Read More Additional information about Early Detection is Key

Tomorrow’s Cancer Treatment Today

DEC 28, 2023

Cancer treatment is constantly evolving, and CHI Saint Joseph Health is committed to offering patients access to the latest clinical trials, right here in central and eastern Kentucky.

Read More Additional information about Tomorrow’s Cancer Treatment Today

Subscribe for Updates

Fill out the form below to receive monthly health news and information to your inbox.

View the Latest Print Edition

Spirit of Health magazine's print edition is distributed quarterly and focuses on topics related to our CHI Saint Joseph Health purpose and values.