Dr. Nalo Johnson, director of health promotion and chronic disease prevention at the Iowa Department of Public Health, says the report shows the age-adjusted cancer mortality rate for black Iowans is more than 25-percent greater than it is for white Iowans.
“It’s not only important to examine the data, but to examine the data in the most appropriate way,” Johnson says. “In this case, understanding that we need to compare age-adjusted rates of disease in order to have a true understanding of the cancer burden in the state, given the higher proportion of older adults who are white and the fact that an individual has a greater risk for cancer as they age.”
Identifying the disparities is important, Johnson says, as adopting a “one size fits all” strategy won’t bring different health outcomes. “This age-adjusted analysis shows us that black Iowans have the highest cancer incident rates for those ages 50 to 79 years, while white Iowans have the highest rate for those 80 years and older,” Johnson says. “Of the 12 major causes of death, black Iowans have the highest mortality rate in ten conditions, including cancer.”
The report concludes the disparities are caused by circumstances created by “structural racism.” It says black people have less access to health care, more mistrust in the health care system, and may have historically received lower-quality health care, which results in more deaths from diseases including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
“Having the data to identify the disparity is key,” Johnson says, “and the next step involves working with public health experts, health care providers, and affected community members to learn more about the experience and potential causes related to these cancer disparities.”
The report is produced by the State Health Registry of Iowa, based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The overall report projects about 18,900 Iowans will be diagnosed with cancer this year and 6,400 will die from it.
The number of new cancer patients in Iowa has risen in recent years, while the number of annual cancer deaths is holding steady.