Customs, Habits and Cancer


A Look at Trends and Ways We Can Start Reducing Cancer Mortality

By John Roberson, VP of Children and Family Services for CHD

I wanted to learn more about how cancer affects the African American community, so I looked to Otis W. Brawley, M.D., F.A.C.P., Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society. According to Dr. Brawley, an African American himself, the risk of death due to cancer for an American is 20% lower today than in 1991. For breast cancer, the risk of death is 30% lower. For colon cancer it’s 35% lower.

But the news for the African American community is not as good. Blacks have a higher mortality rate from cancer than whites, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics or Native Americans. But since we know race is not a biological categorization, something else must account for racial disparities in cancer mortality.

According to Dr. Brawley, research tells us that cancer is often caused by customs and habits, notably smoking and the combination of obesity, poor nutrition and inactivity. Together, these two categories account for more than half of all cancer deaths.

Can changing our customs and habits reduce our risk of cancer? Statistics tell us yes. Consider smoking. Far fewer American smoke today than in 1970. As a result, lung cancer rates declined 23% from 1991 to 2012. But just as it has taken time for the reduction in smoking to be reflected in a reduction in cancer mortality, Dr. Brawley expresses concern that cancer rates due to obesity/poor nutrition/inactivity will trend upward. Here’s why:

  • In 1970, 15% of American adults were obese; today it’s over 35%
  • In 1970, 4% of American children were obese; today it’s over 20%


There’s troubling news for African Americans here, too. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on trends in obesity among adults in the U.S., non-Hispanic black men had the greatest prevalence of obesity (38%), higher than their white and Hispanic peers. Non-Hispanic black women had the greatest prevalence of obesity (57.2%), substantially higher than their white and Hispanic peers.

Fortunately, we all have the opportunity to change some customs and habits that contribute to cancer. If you’re still smoking, quit! If you’re overweight and inactive, start eating sensibly and get involved in physical activity. Not only can these changes reduce your likelihood of getting cancer in the future, they can help you start feeling more vital and healthy now. If you’d like to connect with community resources that can help you, call 844-CHD-HELP.

If cancer does strike you or a loved one, CHD Cancer House of Hope in West Springfield provides free services for anyone with any type of cancer. The House offers therapeutic massage, reiki and yoga, all adapted for people with cancer. The staff organizes support groups for people with any type of cancer, as well as their loved ones. The House even offers professionally fitted, culturally appropriate wigs for people going through chemotherapy. All of these cancer support services are provided FREE for anyone with cancer.

During  National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, April 11-17, 2017, I am proud to shine a light on the Cancer House of Hope, a CHD organization that is working to eliminate disparities in access to quality cancer care and that does so much for people facing the fight of their lives.


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