BIPOC Lung Cancer Patients and Health Disparities

BIPOC Lung Cancer Patients and Health Disparities from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What do some BIPOC lung cancer patients experience in terms of health disparities? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya explain health disparities at the different stages of lung cancer diagnosis and treatment – and note differences in diagnosis and survival statistics. 

See More from Best Lung Cancer Care No Matter Where You Live

Related Resource:


Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

So I want to talk about racial and health disparities, ethnic and health disparities, specifically in lung cancer care. I know that you have done some research in this area, and certainly being a person of color, this is something that I would imagine you relate to, so we know that the CDC and many other healthcare organizations have now declared racism a public health crisis, and certainly in 2021, we continue to see worse outcomes for cancer and many other chronic illnesses in people of color, so I’m curious, what do you think are the notable health disparities that are consistently seen in treating BIPOC patients living with lung cancer?  

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, unfortunately, this is an area of interest of mine. And it turns out that the disparities are literally every single stage, there’s not an aspect of lung cancer care, which there is not a significant disparity that hinders the ability of minority patients to get better care, period at all stages. So overall survival for lung cancer for Black patients is worse than white patients, even though Black patients get diagnosed on average two to three years younger than their white counterparts. Black patients are less likely to get surgical therapy for early-stage disease, which is the actual care for an early-stage disease dates than Black patients, than white patients, that gap has been narrowing over the last 20 years, but it is by no means closed. Black patients are unfortunately less likely to get an appropriate work-up to get the indicated tests. They are also less likely to get the chemotherapy when it is indicated, and they are less likely to be enrolled in clinical trials. So, literally at every step there is a significant inequity that affects Black patients, and I think it’s really disheartening to see in a field where lung cancer is the most common killer and cancer, and frankly, there are lot    s and lots of patients who have options, who have good options that never get investigated and never get delivered. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is extremely heartbreaking, and it’s sad to hear that we see the same disparities in lung cancer that we see with every other chronic condition, with every other cancer, certainly what we’ve seen recently with COVID-19 as well. And it really underscores what you said previously, which is the importance of being an advocate for yourself and doing your research and making sure that you really are getting the best care.

Be Your Own Best Advocate

(Editor’s Note: Gina Goldfarb is a cancer patient and founder of New Beginnings Coaching Services, LLC, which helps women with breast cancer cope with the emotional and physical challenges of a cancer diagnosis.)

Gina Goldfarb

Gina Goldfarb

I have walked in your shoes. I have been in the shoes of a caregiver and I am a breast cancer survivor and I am a certified professional coach with a niche in survivorship.

I have seen firsthand how being your own best advocate throughout the cancer experience can give you your power back and get that feeling that you really are in control at this time.

It all comes down to choices. As a coach, the value that I deliver to my clients is around educating them on how we show up daily in our experiences, providing awareness to them, showing them that we do have options and choices, despite the fact that we are experiencing very heavy emotions and may feel like we are at the effect of what is happening to us. We can often feel like we are “victim” to our experience, our doctors and our caregivers, but that is just chatter that our mind creates. It is also completely valid and normal for what we are going through, but we can shift our energy to a more empowering place where we start to be the cause of our lives, meaning we jump into the driver’s seat and take back control by becoming an active participant.

Patients need to educate themselves about their disease so that they can have intelligent conversations with their doctors. In this age of technology, we have so many resources at our disposal online. There are so many websites, support groups and organizations that offer information about a particular condition. We can look into conventional medical treatments and alternative treatments that compliment each other. It crucial that patients avail themselves of these resources to better understand their condition and treatment options.

When I was initially diagnosed and went through the series of testing that brought me to a place where my doctor told me I needed a mastectomy, I had already known what I was going to do, but I pursued the following dialogue with my breast surgeon: The conversation went like this: “I understand what you are telling me medically, but I want to ask you this a question…as a woman, what would you do if you were in my shoes?” Her answer was quite poignant and exactly the choice I had made before I even posed the question to her. Her response was: “I would probably have a double mastectomy.” I told her that is what my choice in my gut was and where I wanted to go with this. Thank God I went with my gut, because after surgery they found more tumors in one breast and pre-cancer in the other breast! Based on my experience and my own research, I knew this was the right choice for me. I was my own best advocate!

I just had an experience with a client where she felt like her doctors were ignoring her concerns and putting off her surgery for more than a month because of their scheduling. She told me she felt victim to and at the control of her doctors. Having a relationship with your doctor is like having a relationship with any other individual in your life, it has to be reciprocal and it has to feel right. She called me to check in a few days later and told me that based on our last coaching session, she had seen other doctors and was now looking at different options and resources. She took additional action to reach out to other doctors who understood the urgency of her disease and she was now having surgery in just a few days instead of waiting and delaying the disease growing in her body for an additional 30 days as her original doctors had advised her. She took a proactive role in her health based on her own research and knowing that she had other options!

Our medical doctors are experts who are focused on medicine and getting us healthy. They treat us depending on what we tell them and if we don’t take the time to dig deep, do our own research, ask questions and tell them all of our concerns (even if we feel like we are taking their time up or being “annoying”) it is something we have to do! If we don’t ask questions our doctors are only going to act based on what we are telling them. If we don’t have the right relationship with our doctors it may affect our energy level and how we move forward in our action.

The bottom line here is that no matter what your diagnosis or prognosis is, we have choices! We have options, resources, the right to second opinions, we have the right to ask questions and a choice on what energy level we are going to live in each day living our lives each day moving forward.