Background. Black Americans are adversely affected by many types of malignancies. Methods. We reviewed data from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program to evaluate racial disparities in head and neck cancer incidence, mortality, and survival. Results. Head and neck cancer incidence is greater in the black population and peaks at a younger age. The incidence disparity is decreasing over time and is less for cancers of the oral cavity/pharynx (OCP) than for cancers of the larynx. The disparity in survival after diagnosis is substantial for both sites and is increasing over time because of improvement in survival for the white population, but not for the black population. Some, but not all, of the survival disparity is due to more advanced stage at the time of diagnosis within the black population. The age-adjusted mortality rate for black men is approximately twice the rate for white men. Conclusion. Black Americans clearly bear a greater burden from head and neck cancer. The underlying causes are largely unknown, but are most likely due to a complex interplay of differences in access to health care, quality of medical care, biologic/genetic factors, incidence of comorbid conditions, exposure to carcinogens, diet, and cultural beliefs. Prospective studies are needed to define the relative importance of these factors and to inform intervention strategies.
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