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.

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