• Saaliha Bilal

Racism in Cancer Treatment

Research shows that while White women are more likely to get breast cancer than any other race, the death rate for Black women is 40% higher. Too-often ignored, many face the “double disadvantage” of both gender inequality and racism. Those under this category include women who are African-American, Hispanic, immigrant workers or are part of the LGBTQIA+ community.

In addition to the physical pain and mental stress that cancer already imposes on them, they are forced to face problems like misdiagnoses, detection of infection in later stages, prejudiced staff who often utter racist remarks, unstable economic conditions and overall greater risks in treatment, all leading to significantly poorer outcomes. Also, hospitals and clinics that serve minority neighborhoods are often underfunded and unable to keep up with advances in technology.

Surveys have also found that racism is a stressor that may exacerbate disparities by shaping some cancer-related health behaviors and deteriorate mental health. Women experiencing more racism in the health care system were more likely to smoke, binge-drink, and be overweight. In addition, men were less likely to be up to date on their prostate-specific antigen screening for prostate cancer.

All these points further stress on the fact that access to equal access to high-quality care is a must and highly needed in the present hour. Decades of structural racism and mistrust may have led to countless preventable cancer deaths.

A few steps suggested by experts to curb this problem, some of which have already been implemented by certain collaborative groups include:

-Training health care staff to understand and respond to the struggles patients from belonging to minority groups often face, such as mistrust of the medical establishment, miscommunication with their doctors, limited access to transportation, financial hardships, and difficulties taking time off work, etc

-Under a program known as “ACCURE”, nurse navigators were alerted in case patients missed appointments, or did not reach certain treatment milestones. The nurse navigator would then try to resolve the issue the patient is facing, through available resources. Common examples include free transportation to and from appointments, online checkups, rescheduling appointments, financial assistance for utilities, rent, or gas, and so on.

-To enhance accountability, clinical teams should be updated monthly on the rates of treatment completion among patients of different races.

Through such intentional and systematic work to dismantle the inequities, we can work towards a safer and healthier future.



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