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November 7, 2012
April 15th – 21st Minority Cancer Awareness Week:
Despite Progress, Health Disparities Still Exist
Over the past few years, mass media has heralded the progress and hope in preventing and treating cancer. While we are certainly making strides, too many Americans of every age, economic class and gender continue to receive this dreaded diagnosis – especially minority groups who have higher rates of diagnosis, later diagnosis and higher death rates from cancer.
National Minority Cancer Awareness Week (April 15 – 21) focuses the spotlight on this disparity, investigates its roots and continues to work to bridge the gaps. While the reasons for this inequity in cancer rates may not yet be fully understood, factors include obstacles to receiving cancer screenings, early detection and high quality health care services and treatment. Poverty and socio-economic status contribute to the problem. For example, Hispanics and African Americans have higher poverty levels than whites and are less likely to have health insurance, which makes it difficult to get the health care services and cancer screenings they need.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 1 in 5 African-Americans and 1 in 3 Hispanic/Latinos were uninsured, while only 1 in 10 non- Hispanic whites lacked health insurance. Individuals with no health insurance are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer and less likely to receive treatment and survive their disease. The death rate for cancer among African-American males is 33 percent higher than among white males; for African-American females it is about 16 percent higher than among white females. Hispanic women have the highest incident rate for cervical cancer, and liver cancer rates are twice as high compared to whites. Likewise, for Asian-Americans, liver cancer incidents and death rates are twice as high as those among whites and slightly higher than those among Hispanics.
While the Affordable Care Act helps decrease the number of uninsured and increases access to critical preventive services and screening, there are steps every American can take to reduce our own risk to cancer:
• Get screened - Regular cancer screenings can catch some cancers early when they are more treatable. Screening is available for cancers such as breast, colon, skin, lung, prostate, oral, testicular and cervical. Talk to your health care provider about screening guidelines, your family history and other risk factors to determine your screening needs.
• Control Your Weight -Achieving a healthy weight is the first step to reducing your risk for cancer. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers including breast, colorectal, uterine and kidney. Research has shown that as many as one-third of all cancer deaths are linked to poor diets and physical inactivity.
• Exercise Regularly – Studies prove that physical activity can play a large role in reducing your cancer risk. It also reduces your risk for other serious illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Aim for moderate exercise at least three days a week and remember that small steps over time can lead to big changes – take the stairs instead of the elevator or use a bicycle during your daily commute to work.
• Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet - Start with small steps. No one can overhaul their food habits overnight. Add a few servings of fruits and vegetables to your diet each day to reduce your cancer risk. Choose whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals, over those made from refined grains. Eat less red meat and cut out processed meat: Eating too much red meat can increase your cancer risk. Avoid processed meats and substitute fish, poultry or beans for red meat.
As we observe National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, take time to consider what role you might play in your community, your state or nationally to help reduce the disparities that still exist. But also take the time -- regardless of your background – to make changes in your own habits to reduce your personal risk of cancer. The small, simple changes can lead to healthy new beginnings, and a healthier America.
For more information on cancer prevention, visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s website at www.preventcancer.org.
Catherine Campbell is a member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program of the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and the spouse of Congressman John Campbell.