Cancer hits minorities particularly hard

Representative Ruth Jones McClendon

April is Minority Cancer Awareness Month in Texas.

Being a grateful cancer survivor made me realize we need a greater awareness that cancer impacts minority groups in ways that differ from the general population. My legislation, House Bill 114, was enacted last legislative session to dedicate April in Texas as a month in which to increase awareness among minority populations and among the general population, at no expense to the public.

Cancer is sneaky, and it picks its victims differently. The Texas Cancer Registry data shows that the burden of cancer disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic groups. For instance, minorities are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a later stage, meaning treatment can be less successful. Minorities continue to have lower screening rates and less physical activity. Also, minorities in general consume a less healthy diet than whites, all of which contributes to higher mortality rates.

Prevention is an important piece of the picture, but we cannot stop there.

According to Ian M. Thompson Jr, M.D., director of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, “Cancer does not strike evenly across regions or across different ethnic groups. African American women rank second in the rate of breast cancer incidence, but they have the highest mortality rate. The high rate of liver cancer among Hispanics in South Texas is unusual enough that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has provided a research grant to CTRC to find out why.” Clearly, they are committed to the cause.

Mortality rates show that the combined lack of early screening and access to care shortens the lives of African Americans and Hispanics needlessly. Every case of cancer affects us all — at home, in the workplace, and in our communities. Time is lost at work; the health care system incurs increased costs; and families can lose their moms, dads and grandparents, and sometimes even children. It is time to turn that around with greater awareness and action.

Recently, we launched April’s Minority Cancer Awareness campaign with the help and support of many fine medical organizations, when I hosted a briefing for legislators at the state Capitol. Dr. Debra Patt, an oncologist and hematologist who serves as chairwoman of the Texas Medical Association Committee on Cancer, related a compelling, real-life story about a patient who needed a double mastectomy but had no insurance and consequently delayed treatment.

Patt told how she had begged and borrowed to get this patient the surgery she needed. The surgery gave the patient a renewed life, only to find that the cancer had metastasized in other parts of her body; most likely, this type of cancer will allow her to live one more year. Patt stated sadly and emphatically that an early diagnosis would have changed her patient’s outcome.

More minority cancer awareness activities are coming this month — TV interviews, public service announcements, and distribution of informational materials. Minority congregations can obtain some free materials about cancer awareness for distribution in worship.

I acknowledge gratefully the help of the American Cancer Society in developing the content of these written materials, and Scott and White Healthcare, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and Texas Impact for their help with printing and distribution.

I encourage you to help us spread the word in April about Minority Cancer Awareness.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Transportation.

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