April is here and with it the promise of spring! Along with this, every April, many organizations work together to raise awareness about cancer among minorities in honor of National Minority Health Month. In fact, April 10-16, 2016 is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week.
The purpose of this week is to raise awareness of the incidence of cancer among minorities and to inform the general public that the effects of cancer differ among diverse populations.
For example, did you know:
- Asian American females are the first American population to experience cancer as the leading cause of death.
- African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the United States.
Researchers are interested in understanding WHY these differences happen, so we can work towards closing the gaps. There are many possible explanations for these differences, some of which may be genetic. Although genetic testing is a tool with the potential to uncover some of these differences, patients and families from minority groups are less likely to have genetic counseling and testing.
Genetics and cancer risk
Individuals are often referred for cancer genetic counseling when they have been diagnosed with cancer:
- At a young age (under age 50)
- Have two or more separate cancers
- Or have several family members who have been diagnosed with cancer.
A cancer genetic counselor will evaluate the family health history and talk about risks for inherited cancer, as well as screening and management for those at increased risk. If genetic testing is available, the counselor will discuss the test and help them decide if testing would be useful. This service is aimed at all individuals with no preference to race or ethnicity. However, reports indicate that minorities are less likely to use genetic testing to identify whether or not they have increased cancer risks. Why is this?
There are several reasons why minority populations do not seek genetic services. People’s understanding of genetics, knowledge of cancer and terms used, has been recognized to be generally low among diverse ethnic populations. There may be less community awareness and understanding of familial cancer risks. With this, there may be a lack of knowledge about genetic testing and what information it may provide individuals and families.
Another barrier can be health insurance coverage. Many minority populations in the United States have higher poverty rates than the Caucasian white population and thus, are less likely to have the financial or insurance resources to access testing. However, many genetic testing companies have patient assistance programs available. For individuals who meet medical and financial requirements, there may be little to no cost for relevant genetic testing.
Sadly, cancer affects everyone, and strong family histories of cancer exist among all populations. Cancer genetic services are important for patients and families of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to identify those at increased risk for certain cancers and to provide a path to reduce those cancer risks.
Community awareness, such as National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, brings the opportunity to learn more about cancer risk discrepancies among minority groups. Raising awareness and bringing attention to important topics like these lays the groundwork for future research to further understand these differences and work towards change.
Take the next step:
- Find out about community programs sponsored by the Minority Outreach Initiative at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.
- Read Shoshona Phillips’ story from the Spring 2013 edition of Thrive.
- Learn about cancer health disparities from the National Cancer Institute.
- Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.
The University of Michigan Cancer Genetics Clinic provides counseling for people with a personal or family history of cancers that may have genetic links. If a link is confirmed, our specialized physician and genetic counselors will develop a plan for additional screening or lifestyle changes to help reduce cancer risk. Make an appointment by calling 734-763-2532.
The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.