If Not Us, Then Who? Cancer Education: For Us, by Us

Today is Day 4 of #BlackInCancer Week and we are "Evading the Myths" by sharing #CancerFacts.

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Today we are “Evading the Myths.” On this day, the #BlackInCancer team has committed to tackling questions we have received from our community. Typically, when we mention that we work in the cancer field, we are often met with a question that usually begins with: “Is it true that…” We don’t mind most of these questions, especially from other Black people. After all, most (if not all) of us came into this field in hopes that our work or knowledge would help our community and/or loved ones. After years of answering these questions individually, we posit that the only way to effectively dispel the many myths and misconceptions about cancer in the black community is by combining our knowledge, resources, and experiences as a #BlackInCancer community. Further, we intend to grow this platform so that our reach is as extensive as the cancers that plague our community. “Evading the Myths” day is an opportunity for Black researchers, scientists, and clinicians to address questions, concerns, and common misconceptions about cancer within the Black community.

Hearing the word “cancer” means something different to each person on the receiving end. To those battling, it may represent challenge, uncertainty, fear, and change. To survivors, it may represent courage, strength, resilience, and perseverance. To families, it may represent bewilderment, sadness, and togetherness. To researchers and physicians, it represents opportunity, and passion. To the world, the word cancer represents a disease which interconnects us all through our varied experiences encountering it. Although cancer is a tragic disease that impacts everyone globally, there are still glaring disparities between individuals of the Black diaspora when compared to other groups facing the cancer experience.

The disparities in cancer can no longer go unaddressed. We cannot overlook that according to the American Cancer Society, in the United States the Black community have the lowest 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined among racial groups after adjusting for sex, age, and stage at diagnosis. Additionally, the relative risk of death after a cancer diagnosis is 33% higher in Black patients than white patients. On a global scale, for certain cancer types, such as prostate cancer, the ratio of mortality to incidence can be 3 to 4 times higher in regions of African descent than other regions around the world. Although there are many outstanding initiatives, most of which utilize a community-based approach, there are still significant gaps on a larger scale that add to these disparities.

There are many factors that have contributed to the statistical cancer facts reported about the Black population. It is well-known that African Americans receive less preventive health care than their counterparts, which has ultimately resulted in various suspicions and myths centered on healthcare issues. There are several circumstances that contribute to cancer health disparities, including socioeconomic status, poor access to healthcare, insurance status, and more. Ultimately, many of us have witnessed various loved ones develop and succumb to cancer shortly after their diagnosis. 

Like many communities, several members of the Black community rely on faith to cope with the unpredictable nature of health challenges, such as cancer diagnoses. Some believe prayer can help in the healing process. In fact, there is a vast amount of research that supports the idea that faith promotes positive health outcomes in Black people. While faith can help in coping with a cancer diagnosis, it may contribute to some individuals choosing not to incorporate additional scientific and medical interventions in their treatment. However, we can marry faith with health education to help us combat the great war cancer has waged against the Black community

How can we mitigate the cancer health disparities in the Black community? We believe it all starts with health education in our communities. Unequal exposure and limited access to quality health education renders the Black community more vulnerable to chronic diseases such as cancer.  The lack of proper health education further advances the myths and misconceptions in the Black community, which we feel keeps Black people at the top in terms of cancer incidence, mortality, and prevalence but at the bottom of cancer survival curves. With proper health education, we have the chance to change the health outcomes of the Black community.

#BlackInCancerWeek is a platform to congregate a family of Black scholars, physicians, researchers, healthcare workers, patients, survivors, you name it. This is the perfect time to address cancer education and the Black community. Beyond the disproportionality of those who have to battle with cancer, there are fewer Blacks than other racial groups represented as: researchers, clinicians, scientific communicators, or cancer biology educators, who are leading the charge against cancer. The Black cancer workforce consists of qualified individuals who are able to provide cancer education to the Black community. Empowering our community with the appropriate knowledge to tackle a disease that has disproportionately afflicted us for years gives our community a better chance to win in the war against cancer.

“The fact that we are here and that [we] speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” -Audre Lorde


Sources

  1. Davis, I. J., et al. (1995). "African-American myths and health care: the sociocultural theory." J Natl Med Assoc 87(11): 791-794.
  2. https://cancer.ucsf.edu/news/2019/07/17/the-skin-care-myth-that-harms-people-of-color.9628
  3. Holt, Cheryl L et al. “Religion and health in African Americans: the role of religious coping.” American journal of health behavior vol. 38,2 (2014): 190-9. doi:10.5993/AJHB.38.2.4

Chrystelle Vilfranc

Graduate Student, University of Cincinnati

Chrystelle L. Vilfranc is a Brooklyn native who received her B.S. in Biochemistry from Oakwood University. She is a PhD candidate studying Cancer and Cell Biology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where she focuses on the mechanisms involved in the protection of the liver against injury and subsequent chronic diseases, such as liver fibrosis and liver cancer. Chrystelle is passionate about STEM Education reform, specifically the retention of black students in STEM fields. She is the creator of #RevealToHeal, a writing series for women of color in STEM, done in collaboration with #VanguardSTEM. Though a cancer biologist in training and a champion for health education overall, Chrystelle is specifically committed to reproductive and mental health advocacy.

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