An estimated 1.5 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2010. Thankfully, we have come together as a nation to fight the devastating effects of this disease, and America’s cancer death rate is declining. In Indianapolis, we are fortunate to have organizations and hospitals providing great services. Because of these and other organizations, those diagnosed with cancer are living longer and enjoying a better quality of life than those who faced the disease just one generation ago. In fact, nationally, survival rates leapt from 50 percent in 1977 to 69 percent in 2005 and continue to climb.
Although we praise the many victories in the battle against cancer, a disproportionate number of African-Americans still succumb to the disease when compared to other races. African-Americans have the highest death and shortest survival rates of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. The mortality rate for all cancers combined continues to be 33 percent higher among African-American men and 16 percent higher among African-American women when compared to white men and women. Together, though, we can take action to lower cancer rates and improve treatment in the African-American community.
The key to making a difference now is education at the community level.
We have already proven as a country that we can significantly reduce incidences of cancer through education and mobilization around preventive care. In the African-American community, we can begin to do this by first understanding the major gap in proper cancer diagnosis between the African-American community and other racial groups. Statistics show that African-Americans are less likely to be diagnosed with and more likely to suffer from cancer. African-American women are 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer but 34 percent more likely to die from it as compared to white women.
African-American men are two and a half times as likely to die from prostate cancer compared to white men. This disproportionate mortality rate is largely due to lower levels of diagnosis and inadequate access to treatment, including culturally competent care. These differences also directly contribute to increased costs of treatment and greater financial and psychological strain on family and caregivers.
Aside from understanding and addressing the reasons that African-Americans are under diagnosed, we can take action to prevent getting a cancer diagnosis in the first place. Physical inactivity, obesity and poor diet, for example, are risk factors individuals can take control of. Environmental factors, such as pollution and indoor smoking, are risk factors that must be addressed by the community working together. Either way, it is truly exciting that we have the ability to change something that has devastated so many families.
On Oct. 1, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ 17th Annual Health Conference, “Combating Cancer in Our Communities,” will convene legislators from across the country in Indianapolis to learn about the facts, tools, and resources necessary for better educating the community. They will discuss legislative solutions that can then leverage community and individual action. From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Indiana residents can hear these discussions by webcast, http://dialogueonhealth.nbcsl.org/
The goal is to develop a process by which NBCSL members can effectively partner with existing organizations to make the most of the resources in their own communities. NBCSL legislators are bringing this knowledge home to Indiana, and sharing it with you.
By taking action at the most local level, we will help prevent cancer, better diagnosis it and increase survival rates. Ultimately, by uniting in the fight against cancer, we will build stronger, healthier communities, improving the lives of those around us.
LaKimba DeSadier Walker
National Black Caucus of State Legislators