Commentary: Cancer in the Black Community

Social problems can impede securing needed cancer treatment.

Commentary: Cancer in the Black Community

When it comes to prostate cancer, Black men continue to suffer from higher mortality rates than white men. Much of the problem, say experts, has to do with how Black couples relate with each other and their doctors.

Published June 13, 2012

When struck with cancer, any number of things can happen to a patient, and for any number of reasons.

When it comes to African-Americans with cancer, however, not only must they suffer the problems associated with their illness, oftentimes they must suffer personally with problems that can't be fixed by medical science. New research offers some perspective on those problems, not to mention some insight as to why Blacks are more likely to die of cancer than whites.

According to a new study published in the Journal of Cancer Education, it turns out that many African-American cancer patients deal with social issues that can be awkward at best and, at worst, harmful to their treatment. For instance, when it comes to prostate cancer, Black men continue to suffer from higher mortality rates, and not necessarily because the cancer with which they come down is any worse than the cancer white men fight. Rather, much of the problem, say experts, has to do with how Black couples relate with each other and their doctors. This from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute:

According to the researchers, the difference in prostate cancer survivorship and quality of life outcomes for African-American men and their families as compared to other groups is likely due to a number of factors and their combination:

—Stage of cancer at diagnosis

—Tumor biology

—Insurance coverage

—Lack of prostate cancer knowledge

—Mistrust, fear and lack of culturally appropriate interventions

—Inadequate communication between patient and health care provider

In other words, while "tumor biology" is an important factor in how Blacks fight cancer, a great many other risk factors aren't physical maladies, but simple social interactions.

African-Americans are in many cases fearful of medical professionals, not to mention fearful of explaining their symptoms to their own spouses. The study points out that "men reported having limited conversations with their wives about their cancer and treatment. Two-thirds of the spouses 'did not force' conversations with their husbands about cancer because they were concerned about stress and anxiety within the marriage. Survivors reported not being comfortable about disclosing to their wives their feelings about erectile dysfunction and other physical changes."

To be fair, it's a fact the medical care isn't distributed evenly, and many Blacks suffer with illness at disproportionate rates. Also, a history of things such as the Tuskegee experiment has engendered in some African-Americans a mistrust of doctors. That said, it is important to remember that a large part of the battle when it comes to defeating serious illness is being proactive about treatment and being honest with yourself, your family and your doctors.

Mistrusting medical professionals and having real conversations with doctors is something that's easy to overcome. Getting health care, on the other hand, is not as easy a task. First we must help ourselves, then we must demand that the health care system support anyone who needs it.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Written by Cord Jefferson


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