US Mayor Article

April is Cancer Awareness Month
National Minority Cancer Awareness Week April 16-22

By Zora Kramer Brown
March 20, 2000


During the past thirty years, we have witnessed a level of progress in cancer research and treatment unparalleled in any other period of our history. Through technological advancements and scientific discovery, many of the former mysteries of the disease have given way to understanding; the once darkened passage to treatment has been illuminated; and the access to that treatment has been expanded to embrace more members of our society. Still, a disproportionate burden of cancer is borne by members of minority populations.

Despite scientific gains, not all segments of the U.S. population have benefitted to the fullest extent from advances in the understanding of cancer control. Although many ethnic minority groups experience significantly lower levels of some types of cancer than the majority of the U.S. white population, other ethnic minorities experience higher cancer incidence and mortality rates. African American males, for example, develop cancer 15 percent more frequently than white males and have the world's highest incidence of prostate cancer. The rate of breast cancer among African American women is not as high as that among white women, but they are more likely to die from the disease once it is detected.

Similarly, some specific forms of cancer affect other ethnic minority groups at rates up to several times higher than national averages (e.g., stomach and liver cancer among Asian-American populations, colon and rectal cancer among Alaska Natives, and cervical cancer among Hispanic and Vietnamese-American women.)  Many ethnic minorities also experience poorer cancer survival rates than whites. Native Americans, for example, experience the lowest cancer survival rates of any U.S. ethnic group.

These disparities in the burden of cancer prompted the U.S. Congress in 1997 to request a review of the programs of research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) relevant to ethnic minorities and the medically under served populations. Additionally, on January 24-28, 2000, more than 1,200 public and private sector participants attended the Partnerships for Health in the New Millennium conference held in Washington, D.C. Healthy People 2010 was officially launched at the conference. The program focused on four themes: Partnering for Health Improvements, Eliminating Health Disparities, Increasing Quality and Years of Health Life, and Harnessing Technology for Health.

Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity for the nation to focus on the progress made in the war against cancer. And Minority Cancer Awareness Week provides an opportunity for the nation to focus on ways to educate the public regarding the importance of detecting cancer early among ethnic minority groups; to improve cancer control and prevention within minority and under served populations; and, to support programs aimed toward reducing racial and ethnic disparities in cancer incidence and survivorship.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors occupies a unique position among those groups contributing to the extraordinary advancement made in the war against cancer, particularly through the Mayor_s Campaign Against Breast Cancer and a new initiative in the area of prostate cancer. The leadership and unwavering commitment of the Conference of Mayors to the advancement of public awareness have contributed significantly to eliminating barriers to screening and early detection. The advocacy of the U.S. Conference of Mayors for the implementation of community-based education programs and outreach initiatives that target and address specific needs of different racial/ethnic groups is commendable and provides the impetus for forging a national agenda for cancer prevention and control.

In the year 2000 it is imperative that the U.S. Conference continue its leadership role in the fight against cancer, a leadership role fueled by the knowledge that all segments of society have not fully enjoyed the gains made in access to service and state-of-the art treatment. During National Cancer Awareness Month and particularly during Minority Cancer Awareness Week, I urge each of you to issue a call for action to increase participation by all groups in screening and early detection programs and launch an aggressive education and awareness initiative designed to eliminate the unequal burden of cancer among certain members of our society. In doing so, you will contribute significantly to the four goals of the New Millenium Conference: Partnering for Health Improvements; Eliminating Health Disparities; Increasing Quality and Years of Health Life; and Harnessing Technology for Better Health.