Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and the leading cause of cancer deaths among U.S. men and women. The news is even worse for black Americans, who are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to get—and die from—lung cancer.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, a time to call attention to this deadly disease. Clinical Research Pathways joins individuals and organizations in that effort and in highlighting lung cancer’s disproportionate impact on black Americans.

Less smoke exposure but higher cancer and death rates

Exposure to cigarette smoke is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer, so you might expect black Americans to be more likely to smoke cigarettes. Yet the opposite is true. According to the American Lung Association:

  • Lung cancer rates among black men are about 30% higher than among white men, even though black men’s overall exposure to cigarette smoke is lower.
  • Lung cancer rates among black women are about equal to those for white women, even though black women smoke fewer cigarettes.
  • Black men and women ages 40 to 84 who have never smoked are more likely to die of lung cancer than white nonsmokers in that age group.

Why the disparities?

Studies point to several reasons, including lack of access to health care services that can help detect lung cancer earlier, when treatment could be more effective. In addition, research shows that black patients whose lung cancer is detected early are less likely to receive treatment than white patients.

What can you do?

First, don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit. Yes, that’s easier said than done, but it’s still an important—and achievable—goal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a list of Quit Smoking Resources. Keep trying until you find an approach that works for you.

Be direct during conversations with your health care provider, especially if you were or are a smoker. Ask about lung cancer screening and whether it makes sense for you. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with lung cancer, talk about treatment options, including clinical trials. You can even search for clinical trials on your own.

Support the work of organizations, like Clinical Research Pathways, that seek to reduce health disparities. Our signature diversity initiative focuses on increasing diversity in clinical trials so that new medicines are effective for men and women of all races and ethnicities. Improving minority representation in clinical trials also increases access to potential medical breakthroughs.