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Basic Information About Health Disparities in Cancer

Health disparities are differences in the incidence, prevalence, and mortality of a disease and the related adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups. These groups may be characterized by gender, age, race or ethnicity, education, income, social class, disability, geographic location, or sexual orientation.1

According to CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, life expectancy and overall health have improved in recent years for most Americans, but not all Americans are benefiting equally. CDC monitors trends in new cancer cases and cancer deaths to identify groups that are more affected by the disease.

United States Cancer Statistics: 2012 Incidence and Mortality2 reports the following trends by race/ethnicity for all cancers combined (rates are per 100,000 persons and are age-adjusted to the 2000 U.S. standard population).

When accounting for all cancers combined—


  • Incidence rates are highest among black ( 554.5 ), followed by white ( 499.7 ), Hispanic* ( 393.5 ), Asian/Pacific Islander ( 310.1 ), and American Indian/Alaska Native ( 293.5 ) men.
  • Death rates are highest among black ( 253.9 ), followed by white ( 203.2 ), Hispanic* ( 146.4 ), American Indian/Alaska Native ( 136.0 ), and Asian/Pacific Islander ( 126.2 ) men.


  • Incidence rates are highest among white ( 414.8 ), followed by black ( 393.8 ), Hispanic* ( 324.2 ), Asian/Pacific Islander ( 279.8 ), and American Indian/Alaska Native ( 261.0 ) women.
  • Death rates are highest among black ( 166.2 ), followed by white ( 143.4 ), Hispanic* ( 98.0 ), American Indian/Alaska Native ( 93.9 ), and Asian/Pacific Islander ( 91.1 ) women.

*Hispanics may be of any race.

American Indians and Alaska Natives face unique health disparities. The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975–2004, Featuring Cancer in American Indians and Alaska Natives3 found the following trends—

  • Overall, cancer incidence rates for American Indian/Alaska Native people were lower than for whites, but they were higher for cancers of the stomach, liver, cervix, kidney, and gallbladder.
  • Cancer incidence rates among American Indian/Alaska Native people vary a great deal from one region to another, and are highest in Alaska and the Northern and Southern Plains, and lowest in the Southwest.
  • For cancers of the breast and cervix, American Indian/Alaska Native women are less likely than white women to have their cancer found early.


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:

3Espey DK, Wu XC, Swan J, Wiggins C, Jim MA, Ward E, Wingo PA, Howe HL, Ries LA, Miller BA, Jemal A, Ahmed F, Cobb N, Kaur JS, Edwards BK. Annual report to the nation on the status of cancer, 1975–2004, featuring cancer in American Indians and Alaska Natives. Cancer 2007;110(10):2119–2152.