Cancer disparity: your ethnicity and your risk

April 15, 2009 by  
Filed under CANCER

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ethnicityNext week is US National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. You may be wondering why should there be a week specially dedicated to cancer among ethnic minorities. This special week has been observed since April 1987 when the US Congress declared every 3rd week of April to focus on “an unfortunate, but extremely important fact about cancer. While cancer affects men and women of every age, race, ethnic background, and economic class, the disease has a disproportionately severe impact on minorities and the economically disadvantaged.”

Some statistics about cancer and ethnic disparities are:

  • African Americans are more likely to die of cancer than any other ethnic group.
  • New cancer cases and cancer mortality rates for men are highest among African Americans.
  • Among men, the number of new cases of lung cancer is more than 2 times higher among African Americans than among Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • Twice as many African American men die of prostate cancer than white men.
  • Among women, the number of new cases of lung cancer is more than 2 times higher among whites than among Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • Cancer mortality rates for women are highest among African Americans, followed by whites, Hispanics, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • African-American women have a lower risk to develop breast cancer than white women but when they do, they have a much higher likelihood to die from it.
  • Aside from African Americans, other minority groups that face higher risk of developing and dying from cancer compared to the rest of the population are women immigrants from Vietnam and Mexicano women living near the border.

(Sources of above statistics: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Michigan Cancer Consortium, American Cancer Society).

All people are created equal. But apparently, their susceptibility to certain diseases, especially cancer is not the same. Indeed it is true that cancer burden varies between ethnic groups. But why is this so?

Besides the genetics behind cancer, there is another significant factor: poor access of minorities to health care. This is of course followed by the question “why do this people do not have full access to health care?”

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) special report on cancer disparities

“….members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to be poor, to have lower education levels, and not to have health care coverage or a source of primary care.”

The goal of the National Minority Cancer Awareness Week is to promote “increased awareness of prevention and treatment among those segments of the populations that are at greater risk of developing cancer. The week’s emphasis gives social workers, physicians, nurses, health care professionals and researchers an opportunity to focus on high-risk populations and to develop creative approaches to battling cancer problems unique to these communities.

This campaign, however, shouldn’t stop after the week is over. Because cancer is a year-round problem that needs to be looked into. And, as the ACS rightly declares, “cancer is a burden, finding help shouldn’t be.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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