Does cancer discriminate?

Colorectal cancer is spreading among black men too. /123RF
Colorectal cancer is spreading among black men too. /123RF

The American Cancer Society sent shockwaves across the world when it released this controversial statistic - that African-American men are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer in their early 50s as compared to white men.

This has left a lot of people wondering if black people, particularly men, are at a higher risk of developing cancer.

For decades cancer has been stereotypically considered a white person's disease, but with our own South African celebrities coming out as being diagnosed, and sadly in some cases passing away, this has made many South Africans sit up and take note.

With the recent passing of Bra Hugh Masekela, who had been battling prostate cancer for years, and the likes of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond
Tutu and late president Nelson Mandela being affected by the disease, could there be some truth to the theory that black men are more at risk?

Professor Michael Herbst, a health specialist at the Cancer Association of South Africa, says that there is some truth to this. "Firstly, it is important to not cause a nationwide panic by insinuating that black men are all going to drop dead from cancer.

"It is important, however, to not ignore the data that has been collected that shows that there are some cancers that show to be relatively higher in black men as compared to white men.

"However, of late, we are finding that more and more young black males are being affected by colorectal cancer, which has left a lot of doctors baffled.

"This is possibly due to the change in diet for many African people. So this is the one cancer I can say that a lot of young men, particularly black men, need to seriously be on the lookout for because we have seen a hike in reported incidents, which is not very typical," Herbst says.

When it comes to cancers that affect black men more than white, Herbst says he cannot authoritatively speak about what specific cancers differ according to race, but he provided us with fact sheets that show the statistics and data collected by National Cancer Registry in 2013.

These were some of the findings.

The top 10 cancers that affect black men have been identified in percentages as:

In contrast, these are the top 10 cancers that affect white men, expressed in percentage:

Interestingly, colorectal cancer incidents were reported at 4.81% for black people, which is a lot less compared to colorectal cancer statistics for white men.

This reaffirms Herbst's assertion that this new trend of black males contracting colorectal cancer is worrying.

Also, as seen in the statistics, black men have a higher percentage of statistics reported for prostate cancer compared to white men.