By TX State Rep. Ruth McClendon Jones
Fifteen years ago, Congress officially acknowledged a very troubling fact: this country has a problem with race and health.
At that time, a study by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, titled “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” confirmed what many of us already knew; minorities had poorer health and were getting lower-quality care even when factors such as insurance status and income were not involved.
Nearly a decade ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I’m proof, that thanks to medical advances and research, more people are now surviving this killer. But, what was acknowledged fifteen years ago, is still the case today. African-Americans continue to have the highest death rate, and shortest survival, for most cancers, more than any racial or ethnic group in the U.S.
Racial and ethnic minorities are too often diagnosed at an advanced stage, when the cancer has spread too far and treatment is less successful. I am lucky. When I crossed paths with stage 4 lung cancer, the treatment was successful. Too often that success is not the case and the outcome is months, or even just a few weeks left of life.
The causes of the inequalities in cancer among racial and ethnic minorities are complex. They predominantly reflect social and economic disparities.
The social differences may be related to poor diet and lack of exercise, contributing to 33 percent of all cancer deaths.
Economic factors include inequalities in education, work and income, housing and overall standard of living, as well as racial discrimination.
Nearly one in four African-American men smoke compared to 18 percent of African-American women. That correlates with the fact that lung cancer kills more African-Americans and Hispanics than any other cancer. While African-American women are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than other ethnicities.
In efforts to raise awareness for all Texans, encourage early intervention and work to dedicate more funding to early detection and cancer treatment, since 2011, the Texas House of Representatives has declared April as Minority Cancer Awareness Month (MCAM). This resolution is not just about health, but economics as well.
During previous legislative sessions, lawmakers cut funding for cancer screenings at places like community clinics and centers focused on caring for those with cancer. They are doing it again this year.
Such decisions are penny-wise and pound-foolish. A few dollars spent on good nutrition, screenings for early diagnoses and treatment will save lives and dollars.
This year, the Texas Legislature can make decisions which will increase screenings for cancer and improve care for those battling this dreadful disease.
For more information on cancer and resources in your community, visit www.cancer.org or www.livestrong.com.
A survivor of lung cancer, TX State Rep. Ruth McClendon Jones has been a member of the Texas House of Representatives for over 10 years, representing District 120 in San Antonio.