Minority Cancer Awareness Week: End disparities now

April 14, 2013 | by Tami Dennis

Cancer knows no boundaries: It affects men and women, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, and people from all ethnic backgrounds. But, in the U.S., cancer has a disproportionate impact on minorities.

Among men, the rate of new cancer cases – and death rates – are highest among black men, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among women, although the rate of new cancer cases is highest among white women, death rates are higher among black women.

To improve the health of minorities will require a partnership, one that starts in the community. To improve the health of minorities will require a partnership, one that starts in the community.

Although Hispanics have lower incidence rates for all cancers, combined, when compared to whites, they have higher rates of cancers linked to infections, such as uterine, cervix, liver, gallbladder and stomach cancers, says the American Cancer Society in providing an overview by ethnic group. Further, breast cancer is generally diagnosed in Hispanic women at a later age than in other groups.

Such cancer disparities can be attributed to a combination of factors: a lack of early detection, insufficient attention to healthy lifestyles and poor access to health care. But each factor must be targeted to eliminate inequalities in cancer outcomes.

These disparities are likely to get widespread attention this week, designated as National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, but they’re the focus of Kimlin Tam Ashing-Giwa, Ph.D., every day.

“The cancer landscape is changing rapidly, and cancer – combined with other chronic diseases – is resulting in early death and morbidity for ethnic minority communities. There, the human impact is greater,” says Ashing-Giwa, director of the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE) at City of Hope. “We must engage communities, scientists, clinicians, public health leaders and policymakers to create opportunities for healthy food and physical activity, and to provide access to affordable quality care.”

Her program brings together people in the community who also want to end inequalities in cancer outcomes, uniting leaders in medicine, academia, public health, government, industry and individual communities to promote a safety net of cancer-related resources.

The mission: “To increase education and awareness of the most advanced practices in health care for all patients, bringing the best that City of Hope has to offer to underrepresented and underserved patients and communities.”

Southern California is an ideal place for such outreach. As the program’s website notes, the Los Angeles area is home to the largest Latino and Asian communities in the U.S. The city itself also has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation.

“Health leaders in medically underserved communities must be included,” Ashing-Giwa says. By engaging with the scientific and clinical communities, these health leaders can “work hand in hand to educate and lead community members to the right knowledge – that prevention and screening save lives.”

Then they must help the community members access those services across the continuum of cancer care – prevention, screening, treatment, supportive care, palliative care and survivorship-related care. Such interventions must start early.

“Education and skill building can begin in the schools,” she said, pointing to the “Eat, Move, Live!” program that emphasizes good nutrition and physical activity for children and their parents. But they can’t stop there. Health leaders must mentor and train a diverse workforce that includes community members, public health workers, researchers and clinicians if they hope – and they do – to put an end to cancer disparities.

“We must work collaboratively to empower communities to address their cancer needs,” Ashing-Giwa said.

Not just the week of April 15 to 21, but every week, every day.

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