·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Social Injustice Means High Cancer Fatalities in the Black Population

— March 8, 2023

Black men and women are dying from cancer at higher rates than other ethnicities. Social justice issues may be the reason.

Being diagnosed with cancer in 2023 means an individual has a better chance of surviving cancer than ten years ago and a much better chance than twenty years ago. Advancements in cancer medicine and overall understanding of how it operates in the body have allowed for a better outcome in most situations. Scientists have a deeper understanding of what it takes to shrink tumors and kill off cancer cells. Even so, death rates for certain types of cancer remain high in the Black population.

Of course, there are many factors tied to whether an individual will develop cancer as well as whether they’ll survive a diagnosis. Lifestyle factors including what a person eats and drinks, if they’re a smoker or nonsmoker, and if they engage in regularly exercise all play a role in the development of this disease, as does genetics and a family history of cancer. For Black women, studies have shown they are at a much higher risk of developing uterine cancer than their white counterparts due to the chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers. So, the products used in everyday life can also have a major impact. The stage in which cancer is caught, coupled with these individualized factors, determines a cancer patient’s prognosis. But what if there was more to the picture? Well, it turns out, there is – a lot more.

Social Injustice Means High Cancer Fatalities in the Black Population
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

The biggest reason why there are such disparities in survival rates involves systemic social injustice. Death rates are naturally higher in impoverished communities where there is limited access to proper medical care making it difficult to treat a sinus infection let alone give birth or battle cancer. And many minorities live in these communities. Moreover, the social stigma tied to having to conform to white standards of beauty means that many Black women don’t feel comfortable leaving their natural curls as is – this is why they opt to use dangerous straightening products. Studies have actually shown that Black women who have interviewed for jobs maintaining their natural hair were less likely to be seen as professional and trustworthy and less likely to get the job compared to those who straightened their hair (and, sadly, white women of any hairstyle).

As a result of racism and disproportionate resources, chances of developing prostate cancer remains five times higher in Black men than in Asian men and the rate for breast cancer is 2.5 times higher in Black women than in Asian women. In addition, deaths are up for Black men with liver cancer and Black women with uterine cancer. For Black women, the mortality rate is 12 percent higher than other races for any type of cancer and it is 19 percent higher in Black men.

These disparities became blatantly obvious during the pandemic, and death rates remain highest in minority communities, particularly among Black individuals. To circumnavigate this, thankfully, there were attempts to focus on minorities and give them better access to COVID care as well as the vaccine. These things helped.

To fight the high death rates from cancer among Blacks, similar interventions need to be put into place. Closing the gap and allowing for equal access to medical care is key. Shifting perceptions of what is socially acceptable and not, while it may seem trivial, would actually save lives.


Black people are more likely to die from certain cancers, new study finds

Cancer death rates among Black people declined over time, but remain higher than other racial and ethnic groups

American Cancer Society Publishes Cancer Statistics for African American/Black People 2022

Join the conversation!