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J Gen Intern Med. 2009 Apr;24(4):475-81. doi: 10.1007/s11606-009-0912-1. Epub 2009 Feb 3.

The contribution of cancer incidence, stage at diagnosis and survival to racial differences in years of life expectancy.

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  • 1Division of General Internal Medicine and Health Services Research, David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA.



African Americans have higher cancer mortality rates than whites. Understanding the relative contribution of cancer incidence, stage at diagnosis and survival after diagnosis to the racial gap in life expectancy has important implications for directing future health disparity interventions toward cancer prevention, screening and treatment.


We estimated the degree to which higher cancer mortality among African Americans is due to higher incidence rates, later stage at diagnosis or worse survival after diagnosis.


Stochastic model of cancer incidence and survival after diagnosis.


Surveillance and Epidemiology End Result cancer registry and National Health Interview Survey data.


Life expectancy if African Americans had the same cancer incidence, stage and survival after diagnosis as white adults.


African-American men and women live 1.47 and 0.91 fewer years, respectively, than whites as the result of all cancers combined. Among men, racial differences in cancer incidence, stage at diagnosis and survival after diagnosis account for 1.12 (95% CI: 0.52 to 1.36), 0.17 (95% CI: -0.03 to 0.33) and 0.21 (95% CI: 0.05 to 0.34) years of the racial gap in life expectancy, respectively. Among women, incidence, stage and survival after diagnosis account for 0.41 (95% CI: -0.29 to 0.60), 0.26 (95% CI: -0.06 to 0.40) and 0.31 (95% CI: 0.05 to 0.40) years, respectively. Differences in stage had a smaller impact on the life expectancy gap compared with the impact of incidence. Differences in cancer survival after diagnosis had a significant impact for only two cancers-breast (0.14 years; 95% CI: 0.05 to 0.16) and prostate (0.05 years; 95% CI 0.01 to 0.09).


In addition to breast and colorectal cancer screening, national efforts to reduce disparities in life expectancy should also target cancer prevention, perhaps through smoking cessation, and differences in survival after diagnosis among persons with breast and prostate cancer.

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