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Cancer has no bias, but treatment might

Doctors and researchers have been given guidelines on when we should all get screened for certain cancers. Sometimes it’s earlier in life, sometimes later — emphasizing the importance of getting screened.

For Black people, many of these guidelines do not cater to our specific needs. We often must be screened sooner or face a more aggressive version of the cancer.

This year, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is hosting National Black Family Cancer Week. The Center for Black Health & Equity is partnering up with the Tiger Lily Foundation to support this initiative and help others understand how cancer hurts our people specifically.

Cancer is not biased; anyone can become sick but the way the disease is treated or diagnosed for Black people can differ.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Black women are less likely to develop breast cancer but are 40 percent more likely to die from it than white women. Black women also get breast cancer at younger ages and the disease is more aggressive, often referred to as triple-negative breast cancer. Why does breast cancer strenuously affect the lives of Black women? Lack of adequate screenings, little access to treatment and healthcare interfere with breast cancer survival.

To address the disparity, people around the country are mobilizing — literally. PBS News recently reported about a mobile mammography unit in Washington, D.C., driven by the folks at Breast Care for Washington. The city of D.C., happens to have one the highest breast cancer rates among Black women in the country. These mobile units bring the needed screenings to the people in these areas at an affordable price.

African American men are more likely to be diagnosed and die from prostate cancer than men of other races. Dr. Philip Kantoff with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said various factors contribute to the risk and progression of prostate cancer in Black men. Exposure to environmental pollutants and underlying medical conditions increase the risk. African American men are often diagnosed later and the treatment that follows often differs from their counterparts.

Experts have cited several ways to help combat this issue. Creating affordable prostate care specific clinics in predominantly Black neighborhoods is one solution. Increasing the active surveillance of cancer in African Americans while increasing their screenings could also help. Research and clinical trials also need to be far more inclusive of African American people.

As mentioned, cancer can affect anyone but it doesn’t look the same in all of us. The Center will soon release a resource about how to potentially start a conversation with your inner circle or community about cancer. Being aware of how cancer can appear and work in the body can help lead to better health choices in the future.