United in fight against cancer

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by LaKimba DeSadier
For New Pittsburgh Courier

An estimated 1.5 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2010. Thankfully, we have come together to fight the devastating effects of this disease, and America’s cancer death rate is declining.

We are fortunate to have many organizations and hospitals providing great services, and those diagnosed with cancer are living longer and enjoying a better quality of life than just one generation ago. Nationally, survival rates leapt from 50 percent in 1977 to 69 percent in 2005 and continue to climb.

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HEALTH PROFESSIONALS AT BEAUTY SHOPS—Health professionals from throughout the city visited various barber shops and beauty salons to inform the community of how to fight the various health issues confronting them and their love ones, while performing blood pressure and other tests. Above from left: Annamore M. Matambanadzo, Ph.D.; Cynthia So, Med student; Ruben Lorenzana, having blood pressure taken; and Dr. Christine Wankiiri-Hale, in front of the Natural Choice Barber Shop. (Photos by Gail Manker)

Although we praise the many victories, a disproportionate number of African-Americans still succumb to cancer when compared to other races. African-Americans have the highest death and lowest survival rates of any racial or ethnic group in the United States for most cancers. The mortality rate for all cancers combined continues to be 33 percent higher among African-American men and 16 percent higher among African-American women when compared to White men and women. Together, though, we can take action to lower cancer rates and improve treatment for Blacks. The key is education at the community level.

We have already proven we can significantly reduce cancer through education and mobilization around preventive care. In the African-American community, we can begin to do this by first understanding the major gap in proper cancer diagnosis. Statistics show that Blacks are less likely to be diagnosed with and more likely to suffer from cancer. African-American women are 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer but 34 percent more likely to die from it as compared to white women.

Black men are 21/2 times as likely to die from prostate cancer compared to White men. This disproportionate mortality rate is largely due to lower levels of diagnosis and inadequate access to treatment, including culturally competent care. These differences also directly contribute to increased costs of treatment and greater financial and psychological strain on family and caregivers.

We also can take action to prevent getting a cancer diagnosis in the first place. Physical inactivity, obesity and poor diet, for example, are risk factors individuals can take control of. Environmental factors, such as pollution and indoor smoking, are risk factors that must be addressed by the community working together.

By uniting in the fight against cancer, we will build stronger, healthier communities, improving the lives of those around us.

(LaKimba DeSadier is executive director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.)

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