Although more people than ever before are living with cancer, it remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease. Ethnic and racial minorities, the elderly and the poor – all medically underserved communities – are more likely to get cancer and die from it. A new report issued by the Intercultural Cancer Council calls for action to reverse the trend.
The report updates a similar study released by the Intercultural Cancer Council four years ago. Lovell Jones, co-founder of the advocacy group, sees little progress since the first study. "When we looked at the recommendations, they still hold true four years later. Very few, if any of them, have been implemented."
Jones cites prostate cancer as an example of the ever widening gap between African American and white males. He notes there is a 60 percent higher mortality rate for African Aemricans and a "two-fold or greater" rate of occurrence.
Jones says the death rate from cervical cancer in poor Appalachian regions of the eastern United States is higher than the national rate. The report also finds high cancer incidence and death rates – as high as in developing countries – among people in Hawaii and other U.S. islands in the Pacific.
These are the people who smoke heavily, don't get regular medical exams, are frequently diagnosed after their cancer has spread and die more frequently from the disease. Jones says they falling through the cracks in the healthcare system for a number of reasons including a legacy of discrimination in policies and practices. "It could be defined as 'institutional racism' as opposed to individual racism. It's economics. It's knowledge. It is cultural habits. It is where one lives."
Jones says the health care system is failing because it is so disconnected from the people it needs to serve. "We think about addressing access, but we don't think about addressing transportation. We think about addressing the issue of finding some gene, but we don't think about how to implement that in terms of a service operation."
Jones joins the authors of the Intercultural Cancer Council report to call on the President, Congress and the American people to make health care a top priority. The report details an action plan for public policy that promotes greater access to quality care for minorities and the poor. Unless more is done, it warns, "disparities will only increase over the next half-century." Lovell Jones says taking steps now to help the medically underserved will help build a healthier future for all Americans.