Monday, April 14, 2014

Challenging Ethnic Disparities in Cancer Care

Dr. Patt speaks at the Minority Cancer Awareness Month press conference
By Debra Patt, MD, MPH
Austin Oncologist

April is minority cancer awareness month.

As a physician in Texas, I often see disparities in disease that vary by ethnicity.  I know that due largely to barriers to access to care, minority patients are less likely to get screened for cancer then are more likely to develop advanced-stage cancers.  Advanced-stage cancers are more aggressive to treat (often requiring chemotherapy) and harder to cure. Debilitation and death become more likely when cancer is more advanced.

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak at an event hosted by Rep. Ruth Jones-McClendon (D- San Antonio) to commemorate Minority Cancer Awareness Month. I appreciate Representative Jones-McClendon's efforts to heighten awareness of cancers among minorities and for hosting this event at the Capitol. She is an amazing woman, a champion of this cause, and a voice of inspiration in cancer survivorship. Being a five-year survivor of metastatic lung cancer, she shares in our passion to eradicate this disease.

As doctors in Texas, we have an opportunity to educate our patients and help facilitate appropriate cancer screening, access to appropriate and timely cancer care, and most important, cancer prevention with encouraging healthy behaviors. Encouraging smoking cessation, referring for smoking cessation resources, supporting smoke-free policy, and encouraging healthy eating and physical activity would all help make our patients healthier and reduce the risk of death from cancer.

Cancer death remains a leading cause of death for all Texans. It is a risk that is higher among minorities. Lung cancer, by far, remains the greatest threat. The threat of lung cancer can be reduced almost completely by avoiding tobacco exposure. When patients have a strong history of tobacco exposure, risk of death can be substantially reduced with appropriate screening for lung cancer with low dose CT scanning.

We must try to help all patients — regardless of ethnicity — receive the care and screenings they need. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

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