Minorities in the U.S. experience higher cancer incidence and mortality rates than the rest of the population. The most recent cancer statistics from ACS confirm that AAs continue to have poor chances of survival once cancer is diagnosed, suggesting possible influence of disparities in access to and receipt of quality health care and in co-morbid conditions.4 An analysis of select demographic characteristics for states with the highest and lowest all-sites cancer mortality rates illustrates the association between factors that influence disparities in cancer incidence and mortality. The states with the ten highest cancer mortality rates have greater socioeconomic challenges than the states with the ten lowest rates. Our targeted area includes two of the ten states with the highest cancer mortality rates (and the greatest socioeconomic challenges) in the nation.
Mortality rates for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer in Alabama are substantially higher for AAs compared to whites (Breast: 32.0 vs. 23.6/100,000; Cervical: 5.7 vs. 2.4/100,000; Colorectal: 26 vs. 17.1/100,000).5 Mississippi has the same disparities (Breast: 35.8 vs. 22.4/100,000; Cervical: 7.5 vs. 2.4/100,000; Colorectal: 28 vs. 18/100,000).6
In a recent release by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention,1 our targeted counties are also among the most obese in the nation. In fact, four of our targeted counties (two each in Mississippi and Alabama) are the most obese in the nation (43-44% obesity rates). This epidemic will have a profound impact on cancer incidence if it remains unchecked. A recent analysis indicates that obesity will overtake tobacco as the greatest threat to average lifespan.7 In addition, diabetes, which is a co-morbid condition, is obviously impacted by these levels of obesity. In fact, the same CDC report also estimates high levels of diabetes in our targeted counties.
Studies show that regular physical activity is associated with lower risk for colorectal and breast cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), nearly 100,500 cancers occurring in the US annually can be attributed to excess body fat, which significantly highlights the role that modifiable risk factors such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, and excess body fat play in the development of cancer and in cancer survivorship. The AICR suggests that the above risk factors contribute to 17% and 9% of breast and colorectal cancers, respectively.8 Therefore, engaging in a physically active lifestyle confers many health benefits including a reduced risk of developing some types of cancer. Despite the promising benefits of physical activity, data from the 2006 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show that about one-half of AA adults report no leisure-time physical activity, with AA women more likely than men to be physically inactive (52.7% vs. 43.5%, respectively).9 While the level is low for both sexes, AA men were more likely than AA women to report regular, leisure-time physical activity 31.6% vs. 19.8%, respectively). 9 This indicates an urgent need to increase physical activity among AA adults.