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Cancer Disparities Impacted by Lack of Ethnic Doctors

0731_Black-DoctorsIncreasing the number of doctors from underserved and ethnic minority backgrounds who specialize in cancer will help reduce cancer disparities in those populations, oncology experts say in a new report.

The lack of diversity found in the clinical ranks in the United States is an additional contributing factor to the cultural gap between patients and their healthcare, explained attendees at the National Medical Association and American Cancer Society’s disparities conference “Health Equity: Through the Cancer Lens.” The finding was one of nine released Tuesday in the report “Cancer In Minorities and the Underserved: Consensus Report of the National Medical Association.”

“As the healthcare reform debates gear up, it is critical that we include the plight of minorities in discussions for a more comprehensive healthcare system that will serve everyone based on their needs,” said Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer for the ACS, in a press release.

Only 5.6% of all physicians are African American, according to research from the U.S. Department of Labor. And while there are approximately 13,000 oncologists practicing in the country, it is estimated that African Americans represent only 2%, states the report.

Yet, ethnic and racial minorities in general, and African Americans in particular, bear a disproportionate burden of mortality from cancer. The report, Health Disparities: A Case for Closing the Gap,” released by the Department of Health and Human Services in June places blame on inequality in routine care and prevention.

Interest in primary care medicine and in oncology careers among minority medical students could help reduce disparities, recommends the panel. They encourage minorities to participate more in clinical and basic science research as principal investigators and as study subjects. They also suggest that implementing more programs to attract middle and high school students is a way to start the process.

–Marcia Wade Talbert

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