Lung Cancer Disproportionately Hits Black Men

Health Corner

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
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Despite rigorous outreach and cessations programs, Black men continue to make up a growing number of new cases of lung cancer in the United States – a trend that has been on the increase since 1950 and is attributed largely to smoking.

William J. Hicks, professor of Clinical Medicine Division of Hematology and Oncology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, found that healthcare providers’ lack of knowledge about cultural influences on care is a barrier to providing adequate healthcare to individuals of different ethnic groups – particularly Black men.

“A person’s risk of getting lung cancer from cigarette smoking increases the longer he smokes, the more he smokes, and the deeper he inhales. Smoking low tar cigarettes does not prevent someone from getting lung cancer,” Hicks concluded in his report.

“Importantly, if a person quits smoking, his risk of getting lung cancer declines. The longer a person goes without smoking, the greater that person’s risk declines. It is never too late to quit because a person’s risk declines somewhat no matter how long he has been smoking.”

According to the CDC, the vast majority of lung cancers could be prevented by not smoking with as many as 83 percent of lung cancer deaths in men caused by cigarette smoking. An estimated 17,050 deaths from lung cancer occurred among Blacks in 2016, with a death rate of 3.3 percent among Black men.

Hicks’ research, which culminated in the report “Too Many Cases, Too Many Deaths: Lung Cancer in African Americans,” and presented by the American Lung Association, suggested the popularity of menthol cigarettes among Black men could be the major cause for disparities between Black and White smokers.  Citing increased levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine in the blood of menthol cigarette smokers, the report said increased cancer diagnosis may be attributed to higher nicotine exposure and more severe levels of addiction.

Yet, few Black males are screened or diagnosed until late stage cancers have been detected.  According to Hicks, race may be to blame. “Knowledge about cultural differences, respect for individual opinions about health and illness, and ability to negotiate differences are essential qualities for health professionals who serve culturally diverse populations,” Hicks writes.  “Because of the morbidity and mortality rates associated with lung cancer in the African-American population, prevention, early detection, and treatment programs are needed urgently.”

Hicks’ findings are further exemplified by regional healthcare providers. “There are a lot of reasons that people put off seeking medical attention, but research shows that early detection provides the best hope for a cure,” Dr. Kala Davis-McDonald, chief of Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Agnes Healthcare, a hospital in Baltimore, said in a statement.

However, early detection doesn’t fix the problem. According to the report, Blacks were more likely than Whites to refuse treatment, including surgeries to remove cancers or accept physician recommendations, which support Hicks’ assessment that disparities remain a problem of trust.

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