In this MD Newsline exclusive interview with cancer researcher Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, Ph.D., we discuss cancer survival and cancer mortality among Black Americans.
Why do Black Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial/ethnic group in the United States for most cancers?
Dr. Hadiyah-Nicole Green, Ph.D.:
“African Americans have the highest death rates and the shortest survival rates for any racial/ethnic group when it comes to cancer because of health disparities. There is a lot of research indicating health disparities, zip codes, food deserts, and other socioeconomic disparities impact African Americans more.
Taking cancer incidence, prevalence, and outcomes in a silo doesn’t take into consideration the full scope of the disparities African Americans face in general with stress on the job, financial stress, racism, discrimination, etc. All of these things impact the outcomes of African Americans with cancer.
Something that’s important to note is that it’s been scientifically proven and published in peer-reviewed journals that stress causes cancer to proliferate faster than it normally would. And African Americans have a higher stress level. Some people say, ‘slavery ended close to 200 years ago. Get over it. It doesn’t impact you.’ Well, when you look at the financial outcomes of African American communities overall and the institutionalized racism and challenges that have been put in place, African Americans do face higher levels of stress.
In general, some of the socioeconomically challenged areas where many African Americans live have poor cancer outcomes because of food deserts and pollution. And when you’re in a food desert, and you’re living off of fast food, low-budget menu items, you are exposing yourself to more carcinogens. You may also be lacking in exercise because you work two jobs to feed your children, and you don’t have the luxury of free time to invest in your self-care, manage stress, participate in therapy, etc.
So, in order to get a comprehensive picture of what’s happening to African Americans who are diagnosed with cancer, we have to look at all of these factors. We also have to look at the psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis. Typically, when African Americans are diagnosed with cancer, they automatically assume it’s a death sentence, and it takes a lot more effort for them to be optimistic.
And we know from the placebo effect that how you think something will work for you impacts the outcome. If that weren’t the case, the placebo effect would be null and void. But thinking something will help actually can help in a lot of instances.
So we have to look at the comprehensive situation and the comprehensive approach to health and wellness. And this isn’t just an African American problem because African Americans are making such important contributions to society. When cancer impacts any community, it impacts the entire country.”
Responses have been condensed and lightly edited.