Thursday, April 14, 2005
Effort works to improve health of minorities

By Melinda A. Huffman
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital,
Colorectal Cancer Care Coordinator

Cancer, heart disease and other life threatening illnesses disproportionately affect minorities. Each year during April, federal government agencies, states and private organizations observe National Minority Health Month (NMHM) in an effort to eliminate health disparities and improve the health status of minority populations. NMHM is designed to address the health needs of African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Improving the health status of minorities has always been a concern for minority leaders. Booker T. Washington encouraged African Americans to take better care of themselves by using what they already had available and in 1914, he implemented National Negro Health Week. The launching of National Minority Health Month in April 2001 was a rebirth of this effort to eliminate disparities across the country. NMHM is in response to and in support of Healthy People 2010, a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Surgeon General. The goals of NMHM are to build public/private partnerships, foster cultural competency among health care providers, encourage health education and training and expand the use of technology. The third week of National Minority Health Month in April is recognized as National Minority Cancer Awareness Week. It is used as an opportunity to heighten awareness of the unequal cancer burden for ethnic and medically undeserved populations. Some minority groups in the United States are less likely to get lifesaving early detection tests. Several populations encounter barriers to access, information and support options. The American Cancer Society is working to find and correct the reasons for this unequal cancer burden. Raising awareness in these communities is one step that can save lives, especially if more people have access to screening exams. Minority populations tend to have lower incomes and less or no health insurance. Therefore, they may put off the expense of seeing a doctor until they are very sick. Many times they are diagnosed with cancer at a later stage, and thus have a poorer chance of survival:
  • African-Americans have a higher cancer incidence and mortality (death) rate compared to other ethnic groups.
  • African-American women are less likely to develop breast cancer, but are more likely to die from the disease if they develop it.
  • African-American men have almost twice the rate of getting and dying from prostate cancer than Caucasian men.
  • Vietnamese women in the United States have a cervical cancer incidence rate that is five times greater than Caucasian women.
  • Cancer has been the number one killer of Asian-American women since 1980. Detecting abnormal cells before they become cancer cells can prevent some cancers. Often, abnormal cells can be discovered through a cancer screening. Types of cancer screenings include an exam by your healthcare team or a test that detects abnormal cells. A physical exam may detect certain types of cancers at an early stage. Some examples of these screening exams or tests are mammography for breast cancer, Pap smear for cervical cancer, prostate specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer, and colonoscopy for colorectal cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Delaware. In April 2001, the Delaware Cancer Advisory Council on Cancer Incidence and Mortality was formed. The group’s report called for immediate improvement of the quality of cancer care in Delaware and for people with cancer to get the care they need. It also called for an immediate increase in available screenings so that cancer is diagnosed earlier. The council asked for payment for cancer treatments for the uninsured. It set long-range goals to decrease cancer incidence rates, decrease cancer death rates and eliminate the differences in cancer rates between races, genders and socioeconomic groups. Delaware’s Advisory Council wants to make Delaware a model for quality cancer care and early detection while learning more about who gets cancer and why. The Delaware Cancer Consortium and the Delaware Health and Social Services offers free cancer screening tests and exams. To qualify, you must be a Delaware resident, uninsured and meet certain financial guidelines. The consortium has placed a cancer care coordinator and a colorectal cancer care coordinator at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital to expedite community cancer screening. For details on being screened for breast, cervical, or colon cancer, call 629-6615 ext. 2577 or 3765. National Minority Health Month is not just for racial/ethnic minorities; it is for all people interested in reducing and eliminating health disparities. Get screened for cancer. The life you save may be your own.