Minority Cancer Awareness Month
Is the Battle Tougher for Minority Children Who Get Cancer?
April is National Minority Cancer Awareness Month, and no better time to discuss how cancer disproportionately affects minorities. There are differences in the number of new cancer cases and cancer outcomes. Disparities more often negatively affect racial and ethnic minorities, poor, adolescent, and young adult populations.
What is National Minority Cancer Awareness Month and Who Is Most Affected?
Black, American Indian, and Alaskan Native communities experience the worse cancer health disparities among racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. They share the most significant cancer rates and the most inferior outcomes for each of the most common types of cancer, despite incredible progress in reducing overall deaths from cancer. “Disparities” are differences in the occurrence, frequency, death, and burden of cancer that exist among specific population groups, including racial and ethnic minority groups.
Cancer outcomes are worse in populations who experience health disparities. This is because diseases from their socio-economic condition affect the treatment and outcomes negatively. Obesity, diabetes, and infections (including Covid-19) all disproportionately impact Black communities. These health disparities can make cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, more complicated to do and cause more severe side effects.
People at or below the poverty level are less likely to enroll in clinical trials offering improved cancer outcomes for cancer treatments. Also, people with low income or insufficient health insurance may not have access to specialist doctors or the genetic tests needed to enroll in clinical trials. However, for minority children, access to clinical trials has been much more accessible than for adults, and for that, we can be thankful. Many resources exist to help families get their child into a clinical trial if they qualify. No longer are financial concerns keeping minority children from these trials if they are eligible. One such organization that helps provides the finances needed for both children and adults is Lazarex Cancer Foundation. This foundation is a great one to support during National Minority Cancer Awareness Month.
Marrow Registry is Inadequate for Minorities
Many child blood cancer patients lose their lives because no matching stem cell or marrow donor is found in the worldwide registry. This is true for both children and adults, even though more than 33 million are registered donors from dozens of countries. The numbers are shocking. 75% of Blacks, 75% of multi-racial, 55% of Latinos and Hispanics, and 60% of Asian Americans do not have a perfectly matched donor in the worldwide registry.
The reason matches are so difficult to find for minority patients is simple: their genetic heritage is underrepresented in the registry, which means people sharing a similar lineage or ethnicity have not joined the registry in sufficient numbers. For example, while more than 12% of the American population is Black, only 4% of Americans on the international registry are Black, and the percentages are similarly out of proportion for others.
Underrepresentation of Minorities
When a population of people is geographically isolated or intermarries within the same group for many generations, naturally occurring Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) mutations stay within that group. Today people disperse freely around the world, but you carry the HLA from your ancestors within you, and finding a perfect HLA match means finding another person who shares your ethnicity. Multi-racial/hapa individuals often have rare combinations of antigens in their HLA profiles, making it even more challenging to locate perfect matches.
Find Help as a Parent of a Cancer Child
There are resources and information about cancer disparities and health equity. Tap into national organizations that provide resources and services for specific communities of children (and adults) with cancer. Here to Serve has a database of resources to help. Below are just some resources you can access:
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: Equity and Cancer Care & Research
- Intercultural Cancer Council
- National Cancer Institute: Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities
By Katie Quintas and Emily Rogalin