Minorities and cancer: One factor can make a difference – exercise
April 10, 2015 | by Abe Rosenberg
The statistics, direct from the American Cancer Society, are sobering:
- Cancer death rates among African-American men are 27 percent higher than for white men.
- The death rate for African-American women is 11 percent higher compared to white women.
- Hispanics have higher rates of cervical, liver and stomach cancers than non-Hispanic whites.
- Liver cancer death rates among Asian/Pacific Islanders are double those among non-Hispanic whites.
Researchers have known for a long time that minority communities take a disproportionate hit when it comes to cancer. There are many explanations. Economics almost always plays a big role in early detection of cancer and in access to the most appropriate care. So do education levels and cultural differences. It may seem daunting, even impossible to address and correct such deeply-entrenched gaps. But experts do believe one critical factor can make a profound difference: preaching the gospel of prevention and supplying the tools to enable it.
We know that the best way to beat cancer is to stop it from occurring in the first place. But if prevention is indeed the first line of defense, it’s a tragically underused weapon in disadvantaged communities.
“When you’re unduly burdened with the necessities of daily life, when it’s a struggle just to get food on the table, you don’t have the time or energy to spend on prevention,” says Kimlin Tam Ashing, Ph.D., director of City of Hope’s Center for Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE).”
That’s why CCARE and Minority Cancer Awareness Week are so important.
CCARE works 365 days a year to narrow the prevention gap, by gathering critical data, publishing community-based health education materials in multiple languages, reaching out to diverse populations and partnering with local government programs tailored to minority needs.
A special event amid a long-term focus
It all gets a special push when Ashing and her colleagues convene the Fifth Annual Minority Cancer Awareness Week Forum on April 15. Scientists, physicians, health advocates and policymakers will gather to grapple with inequity issues.
Steven T. Rosen, M.D., provost and chief scientific officer of City of Hope, will speak at the event, as will Joseph Alvarnas, M.D., director of Medical Quality, Lily Lai, M.D., associate director of City of Hope's Committee on Cancer, and Jorge Soto, chief product and technology officer at Miroculus.
“We have a responsibility to ensure all patients have access to the resources and high-quality care we provide,” Rosen said. "The forum is an excellent opportunity to extend our expertise into the community.”
The event welcomes oncology and primary care physicians, researchers, policymakers, public health professionals, health educators, health advocates and cancer survivors, community advocates, community health workers and promoters, and community cancer-serving organizations – everyone, actually. (Register for the forum here.)
Even beyond that meeting, Ashing is promoting a string of simple yet vital messages: Yes, early detection matters. Screenings are important. Regular checkups help. But some of the most effective prevention tools have nothing to do with a doctor’s office, and everything to do with the way people live their day-to-day lives.
Eat better, live better
It starts with getting off the couch.
“Folks, especially young people, need to get up and move,” said Ashing, a big supporter of incorporating dance into healthy lifestyle programs for each specific community: yoga here, hip-hop there, merengue elsewhere. She laments the pervasive, sedentary, face-staring-at-a-screen behavior which, her research shows, is even more prevalent among young people compared to their parents.
Movement matters. How to fuel that movement matters too, and not just in terms of what we eat, but how we eat.
“I want to see people become more mindful of the foods they eat. It shouldn’t be just ‘eating for convenience.’ They should enjoy what they’re consuming.”
It’s the essence of City of Hope’s “Eat, Move, Live” programs for children and their parents in Duarte. Using nutrition classes, a summer camp and publications of recipe collections and exercise guidelines, Eat Move, Live promotes a more active, positive, healthier lifestyle. “We bring the messages to schools,” Ashing said, “but we also work with local businesses. Something as simple as replacing those ‘impulse buy’ junk foods at the checkout counter with fruits and vegetables can make an enormous difference.”
Ashing speaks with the passion of someone who knew early on what her life’s work would be. A woman of color raised in a multicultural home, she lost both parents to cancer. She’s committed to bridging the health disparity gaps wherever they exist.
“It’s my calling. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
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