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National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week is call to action

Jun. 9, 2021, 8:50 AM

Leaders from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center are supporting a new event to raise awareness about how African Americans can move from the periphery of cancer treatment advancements to the center stage.

Although Blacks bear a disproportionate cancer burden compared to other racial groups, they are underrepresented in clinical trials and national genetic databases — important resources that researchers utilize to develop new and more effective cancer therapies. National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, June 17-23, aims to spur conversations followed by actions to make advancements in care more equitable.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Oncology Center of Excellence announced the awareness week, which will become an annual event, to align with Juneteenth, a holiday recognizing the emancipation of enslaved people, as well as National Cancer Survivorship Month and Men’s Health Month. The FDA noted that Black Americans have had the highest mortality rates of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers.

“As we strive for health equity, we must be intentional and flexible in meeting people where they are  to enable them to access the care they need,” said Tuya Pal, MD, associate director of Cancer Health Disparities at VICC and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research.

Tuya Pal, associate professor of medicine and Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)
Tuya Pal, MD

Cancer disparities could be exacerbated as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic because of delayed or omitted screenings to detect colon cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer — diseases that disproportionately affect Blacks. Early detection of these cancers greatly improves survival rates.

“Black people are dying of cancer at much greater rates than any other racial/ethnic group, but the community itself may not be aware of its poorer outcomes. Knowledge is key. It is my hope that the FDA’s National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week will empower individuals and families to learn more about their cancer risks and what they can do to mitigate those risks and improve survival,” said Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD, professor of Radiation Oncology at Vanderbilt, executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance and professor of Medicine at Meharry Medical College.

Karen Winkfield, MD, PhD

Families can learn more about actions they can take by participating in “NBFCAW: Engaging the Generations,” on June 17 at 1 pm. People can register for free to learn from thought leaders in cancer research, patient advocacy and health equity.

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