April is Minority Cancer Awareness Month, a full 30 days dedicated to reminding people of color that they have a higher risk of cancer in general than other people. “Cancer education, and people’s risk of cancer, always has to be a topic of conversation, it always has to be relevant,” says Nikia Clark, a Community Relations Coordinator and Program Coordinator with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement. “Our mortality rates are still higher than any other ethnic or racial group. There’s still distrust in healthcare settings that could prevent people from getting regular screenings. There’s still not enough talk between people and their doctors. There’s still screening guidelines that aren’t being adhered to. People in the Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities need to have as much support as possible.”
Black Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic group in the country across all types of cancer and for all cancers combined. Black men are 1.8 times more likely to develop stomach cancer and 2.5 times more likely to die from it; they are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer and have a lower five-year survival rate for most cancers than other men. Black women have the same risk level for developing breast cancer but are 40% more likely to die from the disease.
“We know that African-American women stop their treatment four to six weeks earlier than white women. Our most vulnerable women are having the worst outcomes and the highest mortality rates and aren’t even finishing treatment. Delaying by a month or a month and a half might not seem like a big deal, but with cancer treatment, it’s significant,” Nikia says. “You need to finish your treatment. If you peel back the layers to look at the data in real life, we want to know why that is — are they not being supported? We also know that Black or Hispanic/Latinx men are more likely to get lung cancer. If you’re African American, you’re prone to have worse outcome from lung cancer if it’s not caught in the early stages. There’s also a stigma around lung cancer that we need to overcome.”
Volunteers help keep people on track
Part of the difficulty in providing information about the importance of screenings might be where the message is coming from. Bobbie Brown worked as a nurse’s aide at Buffalo General for a number of years and now serves as a volunteer for Roswell Park and is part of Nikia’s outreach team, setting up meetings, providing trainings and teachings and talking with people in her community about their cancer risks.
Stay tuned for part 2 next week