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African American History Month

February 06, 2013 -- February is the month our nation honors African Americans, a tradition that dates back to 1926 when American historian Carter G. Woodson established Black History Week. In bicentennial year 1976, the celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February. In a statement put out by the Department of Health and Human Services to honor African Americans, Secretary Sebelius notes that 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Americans of African descent have made significant and lasting contributions to healthcare in this nation. Milestones include: In 1889, Alfred O. Coffin was awarded the second science PhD at Illinois Wesleyan University. Dr. Charles Drew, whose research lead to improved blood storage techniques, was the first African American to earn a doctor of medical sciences degree from Columbia University. In 1943, Drew was named the first black surgeon to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery. In 1933, at Ohio State University, Ruth Ella Moore became the first black female to earn a PhD in bacteriology.

The African American Community—a snapshot

As of July, 2011—the most current data available—there are 43.9 million blacks (this number includes mixed-race blacks) living in the United States. By the year, 2060 blacks are projected to constitute 18.4 percent of the total U.S. population, up from about 13 percent now. There are 2.3 million black military veterans. There were 3.1 million African Americans enrolled in college in 2011, a 74 percent increase from ten years prior. In 2007, there were 1.9 million black-owned businesses, an increase of 60.5 percent from 2002.

Health Gains and Health Disparities in the African American Community

In terms of overall cancer death rates, disparity still exists between black and white men, with black males experiencing a 33 percent higher overall death rate compared to white men. However, there is good news to report. In the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) journal, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers report that between 2000 to 2009, the overall cancer death rate declined faster among African American males than white males (2.4 percent vs. 1.7 percent, per year.)

African American males are especially hard hit by prostate cancer. As reported by the ACS journal: one in five black men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes, compared to one in six for the overall population. From 2005 to 2009, the incidence of prostate cancer is 63 percent higher in African American men compared to incidence rates in white men. African American men and Jamaican men of African descent have the highest prostate cancer incidence rates worldwide. And black men have the highest mortality rate from prostate cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. The overall 5-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer among African Americans is 96 percent, compared with nearly 100 percent among whites.

Researchers are struggling to determine why these differences exist. Preference in treatment, genetic factors, socioeconomic factors, and treatment disparity are all thought to play a role.

Ongoing research sponsored by PCF in epigenetics, genetics, and diet and lifestyle will shed further light on the disparities in prostate cancer between African Americans and other racial groups. Funding for this type of research remains crucial, and this past year at the 10th Annual Prostate Cancer Foundation Fundraiser in Philadelphia, hosted by Neal Rodin and Clay Hamlin, additional focus was placed on the African American Community.

Click here for more on African Americans and prostate cancer morbidity and mortality

And here for PCF President and CEO Jonathan Simons report: A Top 10 List of Epidemiological Factors at Stake for African Americans

And here for the PCF Guide “Prostate Cancer, Straight Talk for African American Men and Their Families”

And here to read the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

For the full ACS journal report: Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2013-2014, click here

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