What do the following people have in common: Pat Battle, Sophia Vergara, Yuvraj Singh, Agnes Chan, Robin Roberts, Chen Xiaoxu, Lorena Rojas, Aretha Franklin, Anita Mui, Colin Powell, Vicente Fernandez, Eva Ekvall, Raul De Molina, Fu Biao, Lisa Ray, Simple Kapadia, Nargis Dutt and Donald Payne? These are all famous people of color who have battled cancer. Some are still living and others have passed on.
April 15-22 is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. During this week, we focus on getting the word out about how to prevent and treat cancer to minority and economically disadvantaged communities who suffer the greatest cancer burdens.
Why? What do we know about cancer? First, we know that people who are poor have much higher cancer death rates regardless of their race or ethnicity. Second, racial and ethnic minority groups bear an excess burden of cancer. For certain cancers, racial and ethnic minorities have higher reported rates than other groups. For example, Hispanic women have the highest rates of new cervical cancer cases. The American Cancer Society estimates that African Americans have the highest death rates and the shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers. The Intercultural Cancer Council estimates that cancer is the leading cause of death for female Asian Americans.
The causes of cancer inequalities are complex. They reflect social, cultural and economic disparities and healthcare access issues as much as they do race, ethnicity or limited economic means, but there are some things that can be done to reduce your cancer risks and improve cancer outcomes.
• Get your tests! Talk with your primary care provider to see if you are at elevated risk for cancer based on your risk factors such as family history and age. Ask if you need to be screened for breast, colorectal, cervical and/or other cancers.
• Work on your diet and exercise. Staying fit and increasing your activity will help to increase your energy level and decrease your cancer risk.
• Quit smoking! Reduce your exposure to smoke by quitting if you are still smoking, and limiting your exposure if you have friends or family who smoke around you.
Regardless of your background, by following some or all of these tips, YOU can be your best advocate when it comes to cancer prevention.
Courtesy of Shawna Hudson, Ph.D., director of community research at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) and an associate professor of family medicine and community health at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.