Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J., April 7, 2021 – Cancer is a disease that can impact anyone, but it does not impact everyone equally. According to the American Cancer Society, Blacks and other racial and ethnic minority groups,  low income,  underinsured, or uninsured individuals as well as those  living in rural areas, often face greater obstacles when it comes to preventing, treating and surviving cancer as well as accessing cancer education. These differences are called health disparities.


Understanding Health Disparities in Cancer

Health disparities between populations are seen as differences in access to cancer screening, the number of new cancer cases that occur, the stage at which a cancer is diagnosed, the type and number of cancer-related complications, the number of cancer deaths, and the quality of life for those with cancer. These differences are often linked with social, economic and environmental disadvantages as well as race/ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation.  Where people live, work, learn and grow can also greatly impact their cancer experience.

Disparities around cancer screening can have a negative impact on a person’s health and a community’s well-being. Some people do not have access to the health history of their parents or siblings and this may mean that screening starts later than is recommended for someone with a relative who has had cancer. In other instances, lack of transportation, language barriers, child care or work commitments make it difficult to get to or schedule a screening. Cost of screening or lack of information on screening options are additional barriers to cancer screening.

If someone is diagnosed with cancer, health disparities also limit the availability of genetic testing and of certain treatments, as well as opportunities to participate in clinical trials for reasons similar to those that limit cancer screening. These limitations impact not only the individual but limit our knowledge about a genetic disposition, treatment outcome or side effect because certain races are not included in the research.


How We Work to Create Change 

At Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, researchers and the Center for Cancer Health Equity in partnership with the Rutgers School of Public Health address cancer health disparities through research and program initiatives. Some of the most recent research has focused on breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer disparities. The Community Outreach and Engagement and ScreenNJ staff work with community partners and cancer support organizations, health systems, and government agencies around to the state to lead, conduct and support efforts to reduce the cancer burden and disparities in New Jersey. With New Jersey partners, the program provides education sessions for community members and healthcare professionals to promote cancer health equity and works with partners to facilitate access to screening events and to participation in clinical trials.


How You Can Create Change

April is National Minority Health Month and brings awareness to health gaps in underserved communities and encourages health education. During this time and throughout the year, everyone can educate themselves and help spread awareness about minority health and cancer disparities. You can help your community make cancer prevention and screening a priority, and raise awareness about cancer research. Encourage neighbors, friends and family members to lead healthy lifestyles, get screened, and even offer them a ride to their appointment. And of course, be sure you are also getting the appropriate cancer screenings.  In the fight against cancer, a little support can go a long way.

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Anita Kinney, PhD, RN, FAAN, FABMR is associate director for Population Science and Community Outreach at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity at Rutgers School of Public Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; and director of ScreenNJ.