Guest Update by Dr. Sanya Springfield
Minority Cancer Awareness Week: A Time to Reflect
Each year, we learn more about the devastating impact of cancer on minority communities. Whether it is the burden of one type of cancer on a particular minority population, or disproportionate mortality when comparing minorities with whites, cancer disparities exact a huge toll on society. As long as these disparities exist, our work to eliminate suffering and death due to cancer is far from complete.
That is why overcoming cancer health disparities remains one of NCI's strategic priorities as well as one of the best opportunities we have for making an impact on cancer. The strategy calls for understanding the factors that cause cancer health disparities, working with communities to develop targeted interventions, developing interventions to enhance the integration of services for underserved populations, and working to develop a cadre of researchers and clinicians who can effectively address cancer disparities.
This week, two events remind us of the challenges that remain. The first is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, observed April 16-23. This is a time to reflect on how far we have come in addressing the unequal burden of cancer on minority populations and how far we have yet to go. It also presents an opportunity for the cancer community to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that all segments of the population are benefiting from cancer research advances. Quite simply, it is a time to realign ourselves with the goal of equal cancer care.
The second notable event this week is the 10th Biennial Symposium on Minorities, the Medically Underserved & Cancer, in Washington, D.C., April 19-23. Sponsored jointly by the Intercultural Cancer Council and Baylor College of Medicine, this conference will provide participants with an opportunity for an exchange of information and ideas in plotting the course of future investigation on cancer disparities.
The symposium will feature a series of briefings about cancer disparity reduction strategies and progress, including findings from a commission on diversity in the health care workforce, and an update on the 2-year-old Trans-HHS Cancer Health Disparities Progress Review Group.
The contrast in cancer status between minorities and whites - especially in terms of survivorship - has never been more stark. While the nation has experienced its first-ever decline in cancer deaths from 1991-2002, there are wide differences in survival in terms of race and ethnicity. Asian/Pacific Islander women are the only minority group with a lower risk of death from all cancer sites combined than white men and women. African Americans have the highest overall cancer incidence and mortality rates when compared with other segments of the population. People are living longer with a cancer diagnosis, but clearly the benefits of significant progress in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment are being felt unevenly across society.
I hope we can use this week to re-establish our commitment to ending cancer health disparities. Most importantly, let all of us in the cancer community find a way to become fully engaged as we work to eliminate suffering and death for all persons facing cancer.