Let’s Celebrate World Health Day by Working Toward Cancer Care Equity

Let’s celebrate World Health Day by working toward cancer care equity

Let’s Celebrate World Health Day by Working Toward Cancer Care Equity
Everyone has a right to be hopeful.
The World Health Organization encourages us to focus on keeping people and the planet healthy for this year’s World Health Day on April 7. It’s a topic not just for the far-reaching corners of the world but also much closer to home, especially when it comes to cancer care.
As a City of Hope Orange County physician focused on breast cancer surgery, I am encouraged by this year’s theme. We learned from the pandemic that our community cannot be truly healthy until everyone has access to quality health services, including preventive care, which is by far the best way to address diseases such as cancer. Now, it’s time to act.
Consider the facts. Breast cancer inequities for African-American women are shocking. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, mortality is about 40 percent higher for African-American women in the U.S. than Caucasian women. Additionally, African-American women are often diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer when treatment options are limited, more expensive, and the prognosis is not as favorable.
Here in Orange County, Hispanic/Latinx women constitute more than a third of area residents and represent almost a third of women over 40 who have never had a mammogram. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage or larger tumors. Compared to non-Hispanic women, they are less likely to receive timely treatment.
So, what do we do in Orange County, a community often touted for its healthy lifestyles?
True equity for cancer care will come from acting on several fronts. One is reaching out in a manner that is culturally aware. I’m especially active in the Vietnamese community, where there has long been a reluctance to discuss cancer treatment or screening. It is my mission to encourage patients to be proactive in their health care and focus on prevention with lifesaving mammograms and other imaging to identify and treat cancer in its early stage when it is most curable. I also raise issues that were once taboo, such as breast reconstruction and assisting women with the mental health aspects of cancer.
Access to highly specialized cancer care is another critical factor. Cancer is complex, and patients should be treated by experts in their specialized cancer field. I’m heartened by California’s Cancer Bill of Rights, legislation passed last year that expands narrow insurance networks to include lifesaving specialized care.
With cancer, many patients can benefit from access to innovative clinical trials that lead to breakthrough cancer treatments. My City of Hope colleague, Dr. Edward Kim, is one of the nation’s top advocates for eliminating longstanding clinical trial exclusions that have prevented many patients — including those in underserved communities — from participating in the latest research.
Promoting prevention and education is remarkably effective, too. We know that the best way to stop cancer is to prevent it in the first place.  Reaching out to women, talking to them about annual mammograms, adopting healthy lifestyles, and seeing a doctor when they notice breast abnormalities are all important. Sometimes, it’s a matter of providing information in a language women understand and ensuring that health care specialists follow up in a way that is culturally and linguistically appropriate.
The good news is that we are making progress in the fight against breast cancer. But this progress cannot be just for some women. Today’s remarkable work in treating cancer must be of equitable benefit. World Health Day encourages us to act now, overcome age-old obstacles, and recognize that when it comes to cancer, everyone has a right to be hopeful.
Hang T. Dang, D.O., is a fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist at City of Hope Newport Beach Fashion Island. The Orange County Medical Association recognized Dr. Dang as a Physician of Excellence for 2022.
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