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Tobacco behind blacks' high cancer rates?

If black men stopped smoking, their cancer rates would drop by nearly two-thirds, a U.S. researcher said Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

If black men stopped smoking, their cancer rates would drop by nearly two-thirds, a U.S. researcher said Thursday.

He said smoking explained virtually all the disparity between black men and white men in cancer mortality rates.

Writing in the May issue of the journal Preventive Medicine, Dr. Bruce Leistikow of the University of California Davis said smoking accounted for more than just lung cancer in men. It is also linked to cancers of the colon, pancreas and prostate.

“African-American men have had the highest cancer burden of any group in this country for decades,” said Leistikow, an associate professor of epidemiology and preventive medicine.

“This study demonstrates, for the first time, that this excess cancer burden can be clearly linked to smoking,” Leistikow said in a statement.

Higher cancer mortality rates
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the current age-adjusted cancer death rate for U.S. black men is 330.9 deaths per 100,000 men, compared to 239.2 for white men.

In 1950, the overall cancer mortality rate was 178.9 for black males versus 210 for white males.

The CDC says about 440,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer and other diseases related to tobacco use.

Leistikow used lung cancer death rates as a measure of smoke exposure, and compared them with non-lung cancer death rates for black men in the United States from 1969 through 2000.

The non-lung cancer death rate closely shadowed the smoke exposure rate. Non-lung cancer mortality rose about 34 percent among black men during the first 20 years of the study period, paralleling a steep rise in lung cancer deaths.

From 1990 through 2000, the mortality rate dropped 11 percent, as smoking declined.

“During two decades of a steep rise, and a subsequent decade of steep fall, U.S. black male smoke exposures and non-lung cancer death rates have moved in near-perfect lock step up and down. The associations are very strong and have been consistent year-by-year for over 30 years,” Leistikow said.

“This means that if black male smoking exposures fall dramatically, that alone is likely to erase the great majority of their cancer burden,” he added.

“Smoking may cause most premature cancer deaths in black men,” he concluded in his report. He said his finding suggested 66 percent of all cancer deaths in black men were due to smoking in 1990. As smoking rates fall, that figure can be expected to fall as well.

Health officials have been expressing concern in recent years at the disparities between blacks and whites involving a range of diseases, but black men clearly are more likely to die of cancer.

In the past, black men have smoked more than other groups, but the CDC has registered sharp declines in smoking rates among blacks since 2001.