Kimlin Ashing Q&A: Reducing cancer health disparities

April 28, 2016 | by City of Hope

Breakthroughs - Kimlin Ashing

Cancer continues to have a widespread impact on our families, friends and communities. Despite sustained advancements in prevention, detection and treatment, the National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2016.

The challenges for minority cancer patients are even greater, as they face statistically higher cancer death rates, and higher rates of advanced cancer diagnoses, than nonminority patients. In concert with the American Cancer Society’s National Minority Health Month, City of Hope has planned a series of articles to help raise awareness about how cancer uniquely affects minority communities.

Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., director of the Center of Community Alilance for Research & Education and professor in the Department of Population Sciences, specializes in improving and expanding medical care for underserved communities.

Here, Ashing shares her insights on health disparities among minority populations and how best to overcome barriers to better care.

1. Studies show that minority groups in the U.S. still bear a greater cancer burden than nonminorities. What are the key factors behind this?

The greater cancer burden for ethnic minorities is not an isolated health disparity. Unfortunately, they suffer from a greater overall disease burden. African-Americans and Native American/Alaskan Natives (NA/ANs) have the highest cancer incidence and death. Latinos have the highest incidence of childhood cancers and cancers due to infectious and/or environment impact. Asian-Americans have the lowest cancer screening rates. Ethnic minorities, in particular NA/ANs, Asians and Pacific Islanders, are least likely to be included in cancer studies despite their increasing representation among cancer patients and survivors.

A lack of research on how to reach our most medically vulnerable about prevention is one of the key factors contributing to these disparities. The scientific community must join forces with our most at-risk communities so that our scientific advances bear the most fruit for the greatest good.

Additionally, we need more policies and infrastructure to promote healthy communities, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Improving access to affordable and timely preventive, screening, diagnostic and therapeutic care would make a huge difference, as well.

2. What kind of progress should people expect in the next five to 10 years?

In 10 years our society will be about 50 percent ethnic minority. We will experience an awakening and prioritization of scientific, clinical and policy agendas focusing on cancer prevention and control to address the needs of our increasingly diverse population and achieve health equity. We must strengthen communitywide health-improvement efforts that integrate medical, social and behavioral health strategies and targets, e.g., improving on smoking and tobacco control efforts.

3. What is the main thing people don’t know about this topic, and should?

That we can take action to protect ourselves and our families against cancer. With community infrastructure and resources, and family support, we can eat, move and live to effectively reduce cancer and promote health and well-being. Eating plant-based foods is our best defense. Getting five to seven servings a day of a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables is nutritious, delicious and protective. Exercise is our cancer-fighting friend. The American Cancer Society recommends 30 minutes a day for adults and one hour a day for children. You can have great family fun and beneficial body movement by having family dance night two to three times per week. Cancer is highly treatable and even curable in the early stages, so making sure we take advantage of regular screening is essential. Early detection saves lives!

4. What is your take-home message about cancer disparities within minority populations?

Community advocacy and engagement is key to addressing our persistent cancer inequities. An activated community can change funding, research, and clinical and policy priorities and practices to be more responsive to ethnic minority populations.

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Learn how City of Hope is working to improve health care access, disease diagnosis and treatment outcomes for ethnic minorities and others living in lower socioeconomic communities through the Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education.

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If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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