By State Rep. Joe Armstrong, Tennesee
WASHINGTON - We are mak ing significant progress in fighting cancer. We see people are either beating or preventing the disease; however, African-Americans face higher rates of cancer than other races.
We know that some get cancer due to genetic makeup. But the disparities in African-American cancer rates in many cases are not rooted in genetics or biology. Rather, they reflect social and economic issues.
At the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ 17th annual Black America’s Dialogue on Health conference this month, experts shared information about what we can do as a community to fix this problem. I urge you to take the time to watch some of the information from this conference. It could save your life. http://dialogueonhealth.nbcsl.org/
Tennessee, Louisiana and Arkansas are home to the highest cancer death rates for African-American men. Across the U.S., African-American men have the highest risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Alarmingly, 90 per cent of African-American women with breast cancer do not have family history of the disease.
How can we help prevent cancer? First, early diagnosis is key — many African-Americans die from cancer because they are diagnosed during the late stage of the disease. Cancer screenings are crucial for early diagnosis. Specifically, men can undergo a test and exam for prostate cancer.
African-Americans have the highest incidence of new colon cancer cases of any ethnic group, and African-American women have an 18 percent higher rate of colorectal cancer than white women. Undergoing a colonoscopy and encouraging others to do so can save lives.
Second, find out where free clinics are. There are facilities that are supported by local affiliates where men and women can have mammograms at no charge.
Third, education is critical in raising awareness. Although many important screenings are available, there is a lot we can do outside of the doctor’s office. Spread the word about prevention and early detection. Increase community awareness by holding seminars at churches, in the work place and at neighborhood gatherings. Share the information that many cancers are preventable and treatable if detected early.
We need to make every effort to reach out to diverse populations. We can do so by partnering with key community organizations. Many are already committed to spreading awareness and education about cancer, making it easier for us to start spreading this much-needed information.
Fourth, living a healthy lifestyle can make a tremendous difference in the prevention of cancer. Many people do not realize that exercise and diet can impact cancer rates one way or another.
Lastly, encourage legislators to support programs that fund cancer research and science, as well as programs that educate our communities about what they can do to prevent cancer and steps they can take for early diagnosis. Let’s take control and work to eliminate the disparities of cancer rates in African-American communities.