America unnecessarily loses thousands of lives to cancer each year and wastes millions of dollars because minorities often don’t know enough about the disease and can’t get health care early enough.
Unless the situation is corrected, that could drain health care budgets as the proportion of minority groups continues to grow.
That’s the conclusion reached by doctors, researchers and community health workers attending a four-day conference here, part of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week.
Today, the conference plans to announce the formation of the Intercultural Cancer Council, a multiracial group of doctors and researchers that will push government to increase spending for screening, teaching and treatment for minorities.
About 1,252,000 cancer cases will be diagnosed in 1995, according to the American Cancer Society. And this year, 547,000 people will die of cancer, nearly 1,500 a day. Nearly a third of those deaths will be minorities, who face frightening cancer statistics:
Overall, black Americans develop cancer - and die from it - faster than any other ethnic group. For example, while more white women than black women develop breast cancer, more black women die from the disease.
Breast cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer-related death for black women, according to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation of Dallas. And their survival rates are lower because they’re often diagnosed too late.
Black men have the highest prostate cancer risk in the world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their rate is 36 percent higher than for white men, and they die at rates that are five times more than that of white men.
Hispanic men come a close second to black men for risk of developing prostate cancer. And Hispanic women are nearly twice as likely as white women to develop cervical cancer, and 1.3 times as likely to die of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Although Native American men develop lung cancer at lower rates than white men, they are half as likely to survive five years after a diagnosis. And Native American women develop cervical cancer at twice the rate as white women.
Asian-American groups report liver cancer rates that are six times that of whites, and they die five times as often as whites, according to cancer institute statistics.
Researchers attribute part of the difference in the rates to lifestyle patterns such as poor diet, lack of exercise and tobacco use. And, they say, death rates are higher because minorities tend to be diagnosed at late stages of the disease. This is referred to among researchers as a “quicker and sicker” syndrome.
Another factor, the researchers said, are environmental hazards.
Researchers at the conference cite a 1987 study by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice, which showed that communities with hazardous waste sites - often linked to cancer - have up to five times as many minority residents as communities without those sites.
Also, the study found that three out of every five African Americans and Hispanics live in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites.
The impact spreads far beyond individual communities.
“Health care expenditures constitute the fastest growing segment of our economy,” said Dr. Valerie P. Setlow, director of the division of Health Sciences Policy at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. “We have to reorder our priorities to include prevention and access as a way to promote better health and a more economical approach to health care delivery.”