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Massey Center Director Testifies Before Congress on African American Death Rate

Man in blue suit
Dr. Robert Winn, director of VCU's Massey Cancer Center, testified before congress about racial disparities in health. (Photo: Charles Fishburne/VPM News)

The Director of VCU’s Massey Cancer Center told a Congressional briefing this week that Black Americans have the highest overall death rate in the United States.

Dr. Robert Winn says disparities go back decades and in some cases over 100 years, but he is hopeful that in the year of the pandemic and racial reckoning, there could be improvements.

Winn, the only African American person who heads a National Cancer Institute designated cancer center in the country, said, “In general, the disparities are manifested in multiple levels, everything from screening to even the overall death rate between Blacks and whites. So in the context of, for example, clinical trials, less than six percent African Americans total are involved in any national cancer clinical trials. In the context of screening, we know that African American women are three times less likely to have breast mammograms. And when it comes to lung cancer screenings, there is still a woefully low number of folks in the African American population being screened compared to whites.”

Winn is a member of a committee of the American Association of Cancer Research that has just produced an inaugural progress report on disparity. That report recommends continued funding for research, redirecting money into communities to encourage partnership and more high impact policies towards screening and accessibility of care.

He said there is progress. For example, the death rate for African Americans in 1990 was 33% higher than for whites. Now, it’s 14%. And he said, “Many times we are getting depressed by recent events, but this is one time where the health disparities report got presented to both Republicans and Democrats, showing that cancer doesn’t really care about your political affiliations, cancer kills. And so, I think this is the first effort, and a historic effort."