Thursday, April 21, 2011

Recognizing Differences

Deep South Network team members gather in Birmingham
to discuss cancer disparities.
As we recognize National Minority Cancer Awareness Week this week, I am reminded that one of the failures of our nation and current health-care system is the unequal delivery of our medical discoveries to all segments of the population. While new discoveries and research are helping us make a difference in the fight against cancer, we must also be aware that delivering these discoveries differently causes cancer health disparities. We must remember that minorities suffer a disproportionate share of the cancer burden, as do segments of the population that are less educated, have lower income and/or no health insurance.

Cancer death rates in African Americans and other minority populations are often substantially higher. Reasons for this are fairly clear, as these populations are less likely to get age-appropriate cancer screenings, most likely to engage in activities that increase risk (such as tobacco use, unhealthy eating or lack of physical activity) and are less likely to get high-quality treatment when cancer is diagnosed. Poverty, low education and lack of insurance contribute substantially to these differences.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has a long history of working in communities and in the laboratory to understand and eventually eliminate cancer disparities. To do so requires partnerships with communities to assist them in helping to increase screening rates and physical activity and encourage healthy eating.

We have major community-based programs in the Mississippi Delta, the Alabama Black Belt and inner-city Birmingham to do just that. Through our Deep South Network for Cancer Control, we have already demonstrated that these partnerships can close the gap in screenings. Building trust, relationships and infrastructure in these communities allows us to effectively export cancer knowledge.

The Cancer Center serves a region of the country with a large African-American population and a rapidly growing Hispanic population. Because of this, we are determined to eliminate cancer disparities in Alabama and beyond.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cancer Rates Are Dropping, But There's Still Work to Be Done

A joint report on national cancer statistics recently revealed that rates of death in the United States from all cancers for men and women continued to decline between 2003 and 2007, the most recent reporting period available. This is according to the latest Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, which is published by researchers from the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society.

The report also finds that the combined overall rate of new cancer diagnoses for men and women decreased an average of slightly less than 1 percent per year for the same period. The drop in cancer death rates continues a trend that began in the early 1990s.

While this is obviously positive news, there is still a great deal of work left to be done. Alabama has one of the highest rates of cancer mortality in the nation. In 2010, Alabama was estimated to have had 23,640 new cases of cancer and 10,150 deaths from the disease, excluding basal- and squamous-cell skin cancers.

Take, for example, lung cancer. Alabama has one of the highest rates of this disease in the nation, yet we as a state are doing very little to address this. Lung cancer deaths in Alabama could be significantly reduced by enacting a statewide smoke-free environment while also substantially raising the tobacco tax. This would potentially be one of the most impactful sets of laws that our state legislature could enact.

We are proud that the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center is at the forefront in leading the fight against cancer. As one of only 40 comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, we are able to contribute significantly to the discoveries that are helping to lower cancer rates. Our scientists are working every day to make our vision a reality. And that is a world where cancer is no longer a major public health problem.

This report is a step in the right direction. But the walk isn't over yet.

-Ed Partridge, M.D.