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Health Disparities in Cancer

Photo of a diverse group of people

Health disparities are differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of a disease and the related adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups.1 Disparities affect many groups of people, including racial and ethnic minorities, residents of rural areas, women, children and adolescents, the elderly, people with disabilities, and the uninsured.

According to CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, life expectancy and overall health have improved for most Americans in recent years, but not all Americans have benefited equally. CDC and its partners track trends in cancer incidence (new cancer cases), mortality (deaths), and survival (life after a cancer diagnosis) to identify which groups are affected more than others.

Increasing early cancer detection, promoting healthy lifestyles, and expanding access to health care help reduce inequalities in cancer among groups at greatest risk.

Cancer Rates by Race/Ethnicity2

Among U.S. men, for all cancers combined—

  • The rate of new cancer cases is highest among black men, followed by white, Hispanic*, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native men.
  • Death rates are highest among black men, followed by white, Hispanic*, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian/Pacific Islander men.

Among U.S. women, for all cancers combined—

  • The rate of new cancer cases is highest among white women, followed by black, Hispanic*, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
  • Death rates are highest among black women, followed by white, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic*, and Asian/Pacific Islander women.

*Hispanic is not mutually exclusive from white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian/Alaska Native.

What CDC Is Doing


Researchers at CDC have been studying which groups of people have not benefited equally from recent improvements in health care. Some of CDC’s recent studies were about—

Causes of Death Among American Indians and Alaska Natives

CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control sponsored a supplemental issue of the American Journal of Public Health about the leading causes of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Death records show that American Indian and Alaska Native death rates for men and women combined were nearly 50% higher than rates among non-Hispanic whites during 1999 through 2009.


AMIGAS stands for “Ayudando a Las Mujeres con Información, Guía y Amor para su Salud.” In English, this means “Helping Women with Information, Guidance, and Love for Their Health.” AMIGAS is a bilingual educational outreach intervention designed to help promotoras (community health workers) and other lay health educators increase cervical cancer screening among Hispanics who have rarely or never had a Pap test.

African American Women and Mass Media (AAMM) Campaign

This campaign used radio and print media to make more women aware of the importance of getting mammograms to find breast cancer early. The campaign also sought to increase use of CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program screening services among African American women aged 40 to 64. It was piloted in Savannah and Macon, Georgia.

CDC Programs That Help Reduce Health Disparities in Cancer

  • CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides mammograms, Pap tests, and breast and cervical cancer treatment to low-income, medically underserved, and uninsured women through states, tribes, and territories.
  • CDC’s National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program provides seed money, structure, and support for comprehensive cancer control plans in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 7 tribes, and 7 U.S. Associated Pacific Islands and territories. Many plans include strategies to reduce cancer disparities.
  • CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program provides funding to support population-based screening efforts and colorectal cancer screening services to low-income men and women aged 50 to 64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when no other insurance is available.
  • CDC funds the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network, which works with communities and partners to find ways to increase screening for cancer and reduce health disparities related to cancer.


1National Cancer Institute. Health Disparities Defined. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.

2 U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2012 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2015. Available at: