April is National Minority Health Month. Supported by Congress with a resolution in 2002, National Minority Health Month is meant to bring awareness to the disparities in health and healthcare among minorities. Led by the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, efforts are made to understand the disparities and the reasons they occur. The 2018 theme, Partnering for Health Equity, encourages organizations to come together to find solutions that will help equalize health for all races and ethnicities. More information and resources for National Minority Health Month can be found here.
Evidence of disparities in minority health exists in all major illnesses and diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. However, the disparities, compiled by aetna.com, related to cancers, clearly emphasize the impact on people’s lives. In the United States, African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival time of any other group of cancer patients. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all other groups. According to cancer.gov, African American women have a higher incidence of aggressive breast cancer. American Indian and Alaskan Natives have higher rates of kidney cancer. Hispanic and African American women have higher rates of cervical cancer and die from it more often. More disparities can be found here and here.
There are a number of reasons believed to be involved in causing the disparities in minority health. They range from socio-economic status and environment to lack of scientific data about minority groups which results in disparities even in some of the most common healthcare screenings. For example, consumer.healthday.com reports, the guidelines that determine when women of average risk should begin screenings for breast cancer come mainly from the data gathered on white women. However, researchers discovered that those guidelines could delay detection in minority women, who tend to develop the disease at earlier ages. More about the study, which emphasizes the importance of understanding how cancer occurs in people of all ethnicities, can be found here.
Another reason for the existence of disparities could be biological. Researchers are looking into the occurrence of prostate cancer in African American men, who not only have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer, but they develop it at a younger age and tend to develop a more aggressive form of the disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities website, nimhd.nih.gov, researchers are studying why African American men are more at risk for prostate cancer and what can be done about it. Genetic makeup, access to healthcare, and environment are all being considered as factors. One study discovered that African American men and white men have a difference in the biomarkers that predict the aggressiveness of a prostate tumor. The study results are being tested further and expanded to look at other more factors and other biomarkers. More about the study can be found here.
There is much more to be learned about the disparities in minority health, why they exist, and how to prevent them. Increased attention and the increasing awareness of National Minority Health Month spotlights the need to eliminate the inequities in health for all races and ethnicities, which will empower us all.
Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.