Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April is Minority Cancer Awareness Month

By Debra Patt, MD MPH 
Chair, Cancer Committee 
Texas Medical Association 

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” 
-Benjamin Franklin

April is Minority Cancer Awareness Month. While cancer does not discriminate by race, color, ethnicity, or creed, the hazard incurred from cancer disproportionally affects minorities. Minorities tend to be diagnosed with cancer at later stages of their disease, which makes treatment more complicated — and cure less likely.

Why do minority patients may have delays in their cancer diagnosis? Minorities are less likely to participate in cancer screening, and they are less likely to seek medical treatment even when signs and symptoms of cancer are already present. Language and other cultural barriers often amplify suboptimal access to health care.

The American Cancer Society reports that death due to cancer is 25 percent more common among African-American males than Caucasian males. Similarly, death due to cancer is 15 percent more common among African-American women than Caucasian women.

As I see patients diagnosed with new cancers every day, I understand what it means to have detours and delays in care and how that can translate in to a worse outcome, and sometimes an avoidable death, among patients of any race. In my clinic I have minority women whose delays in diagnosis have led to longer, more difficult treatments as well as loss of a chance for a cure. Obviously this can be the case for persons of any race, but among minorities it is more common. I see Minority Cancer Awareness Month as an opportunity to educate everyone about health and prevention, and the opportunity to cure cancer when it is in its early stages.

As a society, we need to be accountable for our health and make responsible living choices with regards to diet, physical activity, sun exposure, and alcohol intake and tobacco consumption. Of these, prevention of tobacco abuse and obesity need to be our top priorities, as they are the top two preventable causes of cancer. We need to embrace standard screening recommendations, including annual or biennial mammography beginning at age 40 for women of average risk, screening colonoscopy or other appropriate imaging modality beginning at age 50, cervical cancer screening, and prostate cancer screening based on an informed discussion with your doctor.

From a policy standpoint, we should improve upon our policies to give our citizens every opportunity to live cancer-free. We should embrace smoke-free policy, support tobacco cessation efforts and education, support healthy lifestyle choices, and make screening more available. We could work to diminish barriers to appropriate screening and care for minorities and all individuals who lack access to care.

While we are doing a far better job of curing cancer, people will always be healthier by preventing it in the first place, or by finding it so early that it requires minimal intervention. Then we can live, work, play and do other things that are the activities of well people.

In the words of Ben Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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