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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.

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 Natives2 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.

2Espey 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.

Photo of a crowd of diverse people.

Factors That Contribute to Health Disparities in Cancer

Socioeconomic status, access to health care services, and social and built environments are some factors that contribute to health disparities in cancer.

Photo of a Native American woman with her doctor.

Reducing Health Disparities in Cancer

CDC and other public health agencies, health care providers, and communities of all racial and ethnic groups must become partners in reducing health disparities in cancer.