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Raising Cancer Awareness in Black Communities Through #BlackFamCan

June 14, 2023
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Intergenerational trauma is the idea that trauma can pass down from a person or family to their descendants. This concept is primarily used in discussions surrounding mental health, however, it is a term that should be kept in mind as cancer programs and practices strive to develop effective health equity initiatives.

For example, Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the US at $0.17 per pack of 20 cigarettes—an amount considerably lower than the national average ($2.14). This contributed to the state’s failing grade in the tobacco prevention and cessation funding category in the American Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control report. It also contributed to an increased number of smokers in the state, as studies indicate that teenagers are 4 times more likely to smoke if their parent or guardian does. More than 40% of all diagnosed cancers and nearly half of all cancer-related deaths in the US can be attributed to preventable causes, such as smoking. Thus, raising awareness of cancer and its risks among underrepresented groups is key to preventing the transmission of unhealthy habits from one generation to another.

Engaging the Generations

Studies have shown that Black Americans have the highest death rate of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers in the US. They also face greater obstacles in accessing cancer screening and treatment services. According to the American Cancer Society, living in areas highly populated by Black Americans is positively correlated with being diagnosed with late-stage cancer. These areas also show correlations with higher death rates and lower rates of survival from breast and lung cancers.

This year, June 16 to 22 is National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week—a week dedicated by the US Food and Drug Administration's Oncology Center of Excellence, Project Community to raise awareness of the importance of clinical trial participation and specimen donations for cancer research among Black Americans. The theme this year is centered around “engaging the generations,” and some topics of conversation he FDA has identified include:

  • Closing the screening gap
  • Understanding and address environmental exposure
  • Decreasing the impact of preventable cancers
  • Bring cutting-edge research to patients and communities
  • Supporting patients and caregivers.

Additionally, everyone is welcome to join in on social media to raise awareness of National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week on social media using #BlackFamCan. A free social media toolkit, including sample text and images, is available on the National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week website. It can be downloaded and shared to continue the conversation and inspire others to do so, too.

The Oncology Workforce of the Future

Through his 2023-2024 ACCC President’s theme—(Re)Building the Oncology Workforce to Deliver Next Generation Cancer Care—Dr Olalekan Ajayi aims to make care more accessible to patients in marginalized communities. "Making healthcare—particularly lifesaving care like [anti-]cancer treatment—accessible to everyone should be our calling,” Dr Ajayi said. “Whether we are talking about race, geography, age, socioeconomic status, or any other individual characteristics.”

Looking to the future, hiring care team members who come from the same communities as the patients being treated in a given cancer program or practice will be crucial to achieving health equity, especially for Black Americans and other patient populations who face higher risk and mortality rates than their White counterparts. Thus, cancer programs and practices must strive to engage the next generation of Black Americans and can do so by increasing cancer screening efforts and introducing conversations about cancer risk at earlier ages. This can then inspire the next generation of the oncology workforce. Dr Ajayi believes there is nothing better than staffing cancer care teams who reflect the communities they are serving; those with cultural humility and the desire to understand their patients’ priorities and values.

One of Dr Ajayi’s primary goals with his theme is to broaden the coalition of the oncology workforce to reflect the growing complexity of cancer care and facilitate greater equity in care delivery. "This will require all of us working together to add new disciplines, diverse educational backgrounds, distinctive community voices, and unique experiences and perspectives into our cancer care delivery teams," he said. These partnerships must be developed alongside community stakeholders to ensure that the goals of the community are always prioritized.

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