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Learn about the positive steps you can take to reduce your risk.

If you are Black/African American, you are at increased risk for cancer in general, but also for specific types of cancer.

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Cancer Risks for Blacks/African Americans

Some cancer risks can be controlled, and some can’t. You can’t change risks associated with your gender, race, age, or family history. If you are Black African American, you are at increased risk for cancer in general, but also for specific cancers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2011, for all cancers combined, both incidence rates and death rates were highest among black men. For women, while incidence rates were highest among white women (black women were second), the death rates were higher for black women.

But there are positive steps you can take to reduce your risk. Here, we’ve provided some information about the types of cancer that have the highest incidences for Blacks/African Americans, and steps you can take to reduce your risks for each.

Breast Cancer

The CDC reports that between 2005-2009, breast cancer was the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. They note that, while breast cancer deaths have been declining over the years, “black women have the highest death rates of all racial and ethnic groups, and are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.”

Steps You Can Take

  1. Talk to your primary care provider about your combined risk factors for breast cancer, and come to an agreement about the best time for you to start getting your mammogram. Then stick to the schedule. Breast cancer survivor Cindi Moulden-Keyes explains why it’s so important.
  2. If you have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about whether you should consider genetic testing to get a better idea about your risk level.
  3. Perform regular breast self exams. If you feel or see anything concerning, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.

Lung Cancer

African-American men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the United States, according to the CDC. Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, cigarette smoking is linked to about 90% of lung cancers.

Steps You Can Take

  1. If you smoke, stop. Ask your primary care provider if you need help; medications are available. Quitting is hard – very hard – but it’s probably the single best thing you can do for your health.
  2. If you have a history of smoking and other risk factors for lung cancer, you may be eligible for lung cancer screening. Talk to your doctor about this simple and easy test.

Colorectal Cancer

In 2012, the most recent data the CDC has available, black people had the highest rate of getting colorectal cancer. Black men and women were also more likely to die of colorectal cancer than other ethnic groups.

Steps You Can Take

  1. Colon cancer is probably the only type of cancer that can be prevented, thanks to tests like the colonoscopy that can not only detect cancers, but also remove pre-cancerous growths before they become cancerous. In general, experts recommend getting your first colonoscopy at age 50. How often your doctor recommends you receive them after that  depends on a number of factors.
  2. Talk to your doctor if you have a family history of colon cancer, or if you have pain, blood in your stool, or other symptoms that might indicate a problem.
  3. Eat a diet low in processed meats, and high in fruits and vegetables. Don’t smoke.

All Cancers

There are steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of cancer overall.

  1. Have a primary care doctor to help monitor your overall health and wellness, ensure you get the appropriate screenings, and address small problems before they become large ones.
  2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. This means eating a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat; exercising regularly; and maintaining a healthy weight.
  3. Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, stop. Smoking and tobacco use increase your risk for every type of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, and a whole host of other life-threatening conditions.

More detailed information about cancer incidence rates can be found on the CDC website.