If you or someone in your life has been affected by cancer, you probably know that cancer isn’t fair, but the evidence is mounting that, when it comes to cancer diagnosis and treatment, cancer may be particularly unfair to those who are of lower income or who are minorities. This month there is also evidence that vitamin D could help lower cancer risk if you have the right BMI, a popular gameshow host made us all very aware of pancreatic cancer during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, and WHO has launched big plans to eliminate cervical cancer.
Poverty and Cancer
Poverty is known to put people at a higher risk of dying from cancer, and in a new study, the National Cancer Institute took a closer look at the relationship between poverty and cancer deaths, reports cancer.gov. The study revealed that people in the United States, who live in counties with persistent poverty, have a higher risk of dying from cancer. Counties with persistent poverty are identified by the US census as having had 20 percent or more of the population living below the federal poverty level from 1980 to the present day. Twelve percent of the counties in the US are considered persistent poverty counties, and many of them are in the southeastern part of the country. The counties are mainly rural and have a high percentage of Black and Hispanic residents. Between 2007 and 2011, cancer deaths were higher in counties with persistent poverty. The study specifically showed an increased risk of dying from lung, colorectal, stomach, and liver cancers. The findings reveal the widespread need to address the disparities among those living in poverty who are diagnosed with, and are at risk of, developing cancer. More information can be found here.
Inequities in Lung Cancer
Another report reveals further inequities when it comes to lung cancer treatment and survival rates. Black Americans, and in particular Black males, are more likely to get lung cancer and less likely to survive it, reports healthline.com. When Black Americans are diagnosed, the cancer is more likely to be in a later stage and to have spread to other parts of the body, making it harder to treat. No matter when they are diagnosed, Black Americans tend to have worse outcomes. Past studies have shown that Black patients are 66 percent less likely than white patients to get quality treatment for lung cancer. Many factors are involved, but there is research that shows that bias and racism in the healthcare system affects the quality of care given to racial and ethnic minorities. Learn more about the healthcare disparity affecting Black Americans and what can be done about it here.
Vitamin D may reduce your risk of cancer, but only if you are at a healthy weight, reports medicalxpress.com. People who live near the equator, where they have a high exposure to vitamin D-producing sunlight, have lower incidence of and lower death rates from some cancers. However, clinical trial results have not shown vitamin D to have much effect on cancer, despite the fact that vitamin D deficiency is present in 72 percent of cancer patients. A study known as the Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial (VITAL), which ended in 2018, found that vitamin D did not reduce cancer. However, researchers are analyzing the VITAL data again and think they have found the link between vitamin D and a reduction in cancer risk. The connection seems to be body mass. Researchers found, that when vitamin D supplements were used, the overall risk reduction for advanced cancer was 17 percent. However, the risk reduction increased to 38 percent in study participants with a normal body mass index. Find out more about vitamin D and cancer here.
Pancreatic Cancer Awareness
November is the month dedicated to pancreatic cancer awareness, and despite losing popular “Jeopardy!” host, Alex Trebek, to the disease early in the month, the outlook on pancreatic cancer is improving, reports medicalxpress.com. The improved outlook is a result of advances in screening, early detection for high-risk people, and treatment. Advances in MRI technology are used for screening and detection, and improvements in chemotherapy have increased the chance of removing tumors. A diabetes diagnosis can also help find the cancer early, while it is still curable. In this small number of cases, the diabetes diagnosis is unexpected and is actually being caused by the cancer. Researchers continue to focus on early diagnosis, and there have been promising advances in that as well, including a potential stool test like the Cologuard test that is used to screen for colon cancer. Trebek, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer on November 8, was able to posthumously address his audience on World Pancreatic Cancer Day, November 19. He described the disease as terrible and urged people to see their doctors if they experienced symptoms. Per mayoclinic.org, pancreatic cancer symptoms include abdominal pain that radiates to your back, loss of appetite or unintended weight loss, yellowing of skin and whites of your eyes (jaundice), light-colored stools, dark-colored urine, itchy skin, new diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that’s becoming more difficult to control, blood clots, and fatigue. Learn more about the positive developments for pancreatic cancer here. See Alex Trebek’s posthumous message on World Pancreatic Cancer Day here. See the Mayo Clinic’s list of pancreatic cancer symptoms here.
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched its strategy to eliminate cervical cancer, reports who.int. WHO hopes with vaccination, screening, and treatment, more than 40 percent of new cases and 5 million deaths will be reduced by 2050. This is the first time that 194 countries will come together with a commitment to eliminate cancer. Cervical cancer is preventable, and it is curable if detected early and treated properly. However, for women, it is the fourth most common cancer in the world. If no changes are made to address cervical cancer, the number of new cases is expected to increase from 570,000 to 700,000 each year, and the number of deaths may increase from 311,000 to 400,000 each year. Find more information about the WHO strategy to eliminate cervical cancer here.
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.