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We know cancer affects men and women of every race, ethnicity and class. But in the United States, cancer disproportionately affects the poor and racial and ethnic minorities. For example, cancer is the leading cause of death among Asian-American women in the United States and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Asian-American women. For white women and women overall, the leading cause of death is heart disease.  According to 2005 data, African-Americans have a 22% higher death rate from cancer overall than white Americans.  African-American women with breast cancer are 37 percent more likely to die from the disease than their white counterparts. In addition, African-American breast cancer patients are younger when they are diagnosed and are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage disease than white women. And, a recently published geographic analysis found that Hispanic women experience the highest cervical cancer incidence rates of any racial/ethnic group in every region of the US. These populations face what we call cancer health disparities.

The reasons why the poor and minorities among us are less likely to get treated early, and are more likely to die from cancer are varied and include lack of access to prevention services and quality health care, lack of health insurance, health provider bias and language and information barriers. In addition to these health care barriers there are others that prevent us from making healthy choices for our families: inequalities in education, wealth, housing and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Our vision is health equity for all: a world where your chances of dying from cancer are not affected by your race, class, or income.  We’re not there yet by any means, but the good news is that we have come a long way in addressing cancer disparities among the poor and in communities of color. Cancer death rates have steadily declined in minorities since 1995. At the American Cancer Society we are encouraged by the progress being made among racial and ethnic populations in the fight against this disease. For example, our partnership with the University of Alabama, Birmingham, has eliminated disparities in mammography among low income and African-American and white women in parts of Alabama and Mississippi.  In fact, for every 70 mammograms given, one death from breast cancer is prevented. And, in New York City, we have contributed to the New York Health and Hospitals Corporation colonoscopy program which is on track to screen 80% of primarily low income racial and ethnic minority residents by the end of next year!  Think of all the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who will not get colorectal cancer!

This week is National Minority Cancer Awareness Week (April 18-24). I’m asking you to help spread the word among your friends and family. And here’s the big thing: moms, we need to start with ourselves. We take care of everyone else, well, it’s time to focus on our own health.

During the annual observance of National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, you can do one huge thing for your family – START WITH YOU. Get to know your family history, your personal risks for developing cancer, and ways in which you can prevent cancer. Eat healthy. Exercise regularly. Don’t smoke. Schedule your screening appointments and don’t miss them. If we all did this, there would be 60% fewer deaths from cancer.  I also encourage you to get involved in the fight against cancer in your community.  The American Cancer Society is always looking for advocates who want to eliminate cancer by volunteering in our life-saving work. Join us in our grassroots awareness initiatives such as Making Strides against Breast Cancer and Relay for Life. It’s Relay season- you can find and sign up for a Relay in your community at and let your friends and relatives know we can win this fight!

For more information anytime, call us toll free at 1-800-227-2345 or visit

Thank you so much!

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