A new report commissioned by the DC Cancer Consortium shows the cancer death rate among blacks in DC exceeds the national rate. The report finds that African Americans develop cancer at the same rate as blacks across the country, but they are more likely to die from cancer in the District of Columbia.
The RAND Health report, "Monitoring Cancer Outcomes Across the Continuum: Data Synthesis and Analysis for the District of Columbia," points to the need to close gaps in diagnostic follow-up for blacks in the District and to learn more about the timing and type of treatment received. The report also identifies data gaps that prevent analysis of the cancer burden for a growing number of Hispanics in the District.
The leadership of DC Cancer Consortium says the report points to a need for improved health sector awareness and greater funding to address the dramatic disparity in cancer death rates. The report should serve as a benchmark for efforts to strengthen control cancer efforts in the District.
"The District must invest consistent resources to save the lives and lift the cancer burden for its minority and poor residents who are diagnosed with cancer. While the city has near-universal insurance coverage, this report shows clearly that there are factors driving cancer rates higher for certain populations. We have identified some of those factors. We developed the DC Cancer Control Plan to address those factors. But it takes funding to carry out the cancer plan," said Dr. John Lynch, chairman of the Consortium and bioethics consultant at the Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center.
DCCC Executive Director YaVonne Vaughan echoed that concern, saying the city made an initial investment in the cancer plan, but so far has failed to follow through with sustained funding. She says the new report shows there is a need for staying the course. "It is short-sighted for our community not to continue funding the DC Cancer Control Plan. We need dedicated cancer control funding of at least $8 million annually. The District collects nearly$70 million in cigarette taxes and related revenues each year from a bad habit that's just contributing to our health crisis. But we're spending almost nothing to stop it."
Dr. James Cobey, president of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia and Consortium board member, said there is evidence cancer control works. "We have seen what funding programs like colorectal cancer screening and cancer patient navigation can do. We have made progress in the past five years with these programs. Colorectal cancer incidence fell 10 percent overall in the District during a time we focused on preventable cancers by funding DC Screen for Life. But that program now has no funding to continue."
Cancer survivors say awareness, education and screening are the keys to reaching minorities and other groups at risk for cancer. "Community-based organizations must be empowered to reach people with life-saving information," said Thelma Jones, a breast cancer survivor and cancer patient navigator.
Stephen Jefferson, a resident of Ward 7, where the cancer death rate is disproportionately high, says information is power for anyone diagnosed with cancer. "I had Stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer when I showed up in the emergency room with severe swelling of my feet. I am still here today because I am blessed, first, but also because I received information about a clinical trial from the DC Cancer Consortium."
DC Cancer Consortium is launching a public service announcement campaign in late October to help raise awareness about cancer in the city as part of an effort to advance the goals of the DC Cancer Control Plan. For more information about DC Cancer Consortium, visit www.dccanceranswers.org. Twitter Handle: DCCancer Hashtag: #dccancer2hi
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