First Minority Cancer Month Highlights Disparities

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Lawmakers and health care advocates gathered today to kick off the state’s first annual Texas Minority Cancer Awareness Month — designated in the last legislative session to bring awareness to the racial disparities in cancer survival rates.

“Cancer does not discriminate, and is not just a minority problem,” said Lovell Jones, director of the Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey presented statistics showing that cancer mortality rates are not consistent across racial and ethnic groups in Texas. While breast cancer diagnosis is higher among white women, for example, black women have a significantly higher mortality rate.

“If we want to improve health here in Texas,” Lake said, “cancer has to be a priority we work on.”

Oncologist Debra Patt, chairwoman of the Texas Medical Association’s Committee on Cancer, spoke about her experience treating minority cancer patients, and said many of them were either diagnosed or treated in late stages because of their lack of access to comprehensive screenings. In an interview, she spoke about a timely and highly politicized issue — the state’s efforts to remove Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program, a contraception and cancer screening program that does not fund abortions.

“As a poor medical student, I went to Planned Parenthood for routine health screenings, even though I had insurance, because it was all I could afford,” she said.

The afternoon’s speakers talked about the importance of healthy diets and exercise — but keyed in on tobacco use. In past legislative sessions, Texas lawmakers have failed to pass a statewide smoking ban.

“Support a smoke-free Texas,” Patt advised. “It’s low-hanging fruit.”

They also talked budget cuts. The state Office of Minority Health, for example, is operating on a budget that’s $300,000 smaller this biennium than it was last biennium.

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