African Americans remain at an increased risk for cancer. (Courtesy of Health Daily News)
African Americans remain at an increased risk for cancer. (Courtesy of Health Daily News)

African-Americans are at an increased risk for cancer — particularly pancreatic cancer.

Black Americans have the highest incidence rate of pancreatic cancer of all ethnic and racial groups in the United States, up to 67 percent higher than any other group, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program.

Although there are many pancreatic cancer risk factors, including family history, diabetes, obesity and smoking, there is evidence that this racial disparity is more closely related to social and access issues rather than biology, according to a report from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PCAN).

Given the statistics, African-American History Month is also a relevant time to issue a reminder about the importance of clinical trial participation, according to PCAN.

In the fight against pancreatic cancer, clinical trials often provide the best treatment options, officials said.

They give patients early access to leading-edge treatments that can lead to progress in research, improved treatment options and better outcomes.

Without increased enrollment, it remains very challenging to approve new and better treatment options, according to PCAN.

Considering clinical trials is particularly important for pancreatic cancer patients who are part of an ethnic or racial minority group.

The “I’m In” campaign encourages diversity in clinical trials, and highlights an eye-opening statistic: “Despite comprising 12 percent of the U.S. population, African-Americans make up only 5 percent of clinical trial participants. Hispanics and Latinos represent 16 percent of the U.S. population, but only 1 percent of clinical trial participants.”

“Every pancreatic cancer tumor is different and treatments may work differently based on tumor biology,” wrote Kristin Reynolds for PCAN. “Studies show treatments selected based on tumor biology may increase their success.”

The “I’m In” campaign explains why the patient’s ethnic and racial background is also so important for clinical trials: “According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), increased diversity in clinical trials could help researchers find better ways to fight diseases that disproportionately impact certain populations.”

Blacks are also more likely than Whites to suffer medical conditions that lead to more severe health problems and higher health care and insurance costs as they grow older, according to a new USA Today report.

Their health problems are exacerbated by financial troubles that include lower savings, homeownership rates and Social Security income than Whites, the report noted.

“It’s a huge issue,” said Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chair of the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party and CEO of Global Policy Solutions, a District-based social-change strategy firm. “Over our working life we experience pay disparities, have little wealth in our families and often support others. By the time we reach an age when chronic diseases catch up with us, we are … dropping out of the workforce and relying on disability or taking early Social Security retirement.”

That means difficult choices for low-income African-American seniors, said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of AARP Foundation.

“If they pay their mortgage, can they buy medicine? If they buy medicine, can they buy food?” Ryerson said.

Ronica Rooks, associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver who has studied the health disparities affecting older African-Americans, told USA Today research documents higher rates of chronic diseases, more frequent disabilities and a shorter life expectancy among Black people.

Among the findings from a CIGNA Health Disparities report:

• Four in 10 African-American men 20 or older have high blood pressure, a rate 30 percent higher than that of White men, and their risk of a stroke is twice that for White men. For Black women, 45 percent who are 20 and older have high blood pressure, a rate 60 percent higher than that for White women.

• African-American women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than White women.

• Black men have a 40 percent higher cancer death rate than White men.

• African Americans are 80 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic Whites and nearly twice as likely to be hospitalized by the disease.

• Blacks are more than twice as likely as Whites to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other kinds of dementia.

Dealing with the costs of these illnesses is an additional burden, Cummings said.

“I think the stress of racism, sexism, poverty and the grind of having to figure out how to make ends meet on a daily basis creates a confluence of pressures that are disproportionately borne by disadvantaged communities, especially communities of color,” she said.

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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