Minorities face unequal cancer burden and obstacles

Sioux Falls, S.D. –<i> In this column, Roberta Cahill of the American Cancer Society answers questions on health care obstacles faced by minorities. Cahill is Yankton Sioux and lives in Pierre, S.D. Her work focuses on cancer awareness and education to diverse populations.</i>

Charlotte Hoefer: Roberta, what kind of health obstacles do racial and ethnic minorities face in receiving equal access to prevention, early detection and quality treatment for cancer?

Roberta Cahill: Many people still lack health insurance, they may live in rural or inner-city communities, have low incomes, experience language barriers or racial bias. Social and economic inequities contribute to the differences in cancer rates and risks between populations.

Hoefer: What about poverty – how important a factor is that?

Cahill: Poverty is one of the most important factors because it influences the prevalence of underlying risk factors for cancer – such as tobacco use and obesity – as well as access to early detection and high-quality treatment.

Hoefer: How do the statistics break down for different groups, particularly American Indians?

Cahill: The statistics are pretty sobering. American Indians and Alaska Natives continue to have the poorest survival from all cancers combined than any other racial group. Access to health care is a continuing problem for American Indians, who are second only to Hispanics in lacking health insurance. About 20 percent of African-Americans and 32 percent of Hispanics are uninsured, while only 11 percent of Caucasians lack health insurance. And 24 percent of African-Americans and 22 percent of Hispanics live below the poverty line, compared with just 8 percent of Caucasians.

Hoefer: And what happens when people who are poor and don’t have insurance get cancer?

Cahill: They’re more likely to be treated for cancer at late stages of the disease, more likely to receive substandard clinical care and services and more likely to die from cancer.

Hoefer: So what does the ACS feel is the key to overcoming cancer disparities?

Cahill: The key to overcoming cancer disparities is ensuring everyone has the same access to quality health care, including easy-to-understand information, affordable or free health insurance, and support resources tailored to a patient’s specific needs.

Hoefer: What is the ACS doing specifically to take action?

Cahill: Currently we’re working on several initiatives to eliminate health disparities. We’re conducting research related to cancer in poor, underserved and minority communities. We’re providing culturally appropriate health education and support services through community outreach programs. We’re offering multilingual information in print, online and phone resources. And we’re advocating for improved insurance coverage of cancer screening and treatment.

Hoefer: Is there something a person can do right in their own local community to help fight cancer disparities?

Cahill: Absolutely! There is so much an individual can do. You can volunteer your time to educate others about cancer prevention and early detection. You can raise or donate money for researching the cancer burden in poor and medically underserved communities. You can talk with elected officials and advocate for improved access to care, insurance coverage, research funding and community programs for diverse populations.

Hoefer: What about reaching out to a friend or neighbor who has cancer – someone right in your local community?

Cahill: Yes. That’s another wonderful way to join in the fight against cancer – by being a friend and support to someone who is facing cancer. The American Cancer Society is always looking for people to get involved in the fight against cancer, and there are so many ways to help. Just one person can make a difference. To find out more about volunteering, or for the latest cancer information, call (800) ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.