Martin Luther King Jr. Day Shines Spotlight on Continuing Need to Address Health Inequities, Improved Access

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Shines Spotlight on Continuing Need to Address Health Inequities, Improved Access

As Americans observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it should serve as a reminder of the importance of addressing health equity in access and research.

Olympus also takes this observance as a time to remind African American communities of the empowering preventive measure of knowing one’s family health history, according to a press release.

Health equity is as much of a human rights concern today as it was when Dr. King spoke to the Medical Committee for Human Rights in March 1966. At a press conference before his speech, Dr. King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Statistics on cancer screening rates and incidences among African Americans continue to remind us of the need to address this ongoing issue.

The American Cancer Society reports that cases and mortality rates of colorectal cancer are highest among African Americans compared to other groups. While the reasons for the disparities are complex, access to healthcare and risk factor prevalence are historically primary factors.

The American Lung Association’s 2022 State of Lung Cancer report highlighted healthcare disparities among various racial groups, all of which showed lower rates of early diagnosis, treatment and five-year survival rate following diagnosis as compared to other ethnicities. African Americans living with lung cancer were 15% less likely to be diagnosed early, 10% more likely to not receive any treatment and 12% less likely to survive five years compared to white lung cancer patients, according to the American Lung Association.

Cancer screenings are a significant component to prevention, but people of color are often underrepresented in clinical trials and studies. A review examining the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) that helped establish lung cancer screening guidelines by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) found that previous guidelines may have been too conservative for African-American smokers.

The review showed that the study included only 4% of African-American smokers and did not consider racial differences in smoking patterns despite a higher risk of lung cancer than those of white smokers. The resulting screening guidelines meant far fewer African-American smokers with lung cancer met the USPSTF guidelines.

The guidelines have since changed and at least one study of lung cancer screening rates at an urban, academic medical center showed that a group that was newly eligible and screened under the expanded guidelines included a higher proportion of African Americans, as compared to those eligible under the previous guidelines, 54% to 40%.

A Day to Talk about Health with Family

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance reports that about 1 in 4 colorectal cancer patients has a family history of the disease, stressing the importance of knowing your family history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people gather health information about parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews regarding, in part, who had cancer, the type of cancer and when they were diagnosed.

The disease has come to the forefront in recent years through media coverage of Actor Chadwick Boseman‘s death in August 2020, at the age of 43, following a four-year battle with colon cancer. Chadwick Boseman’s older brother, Kevin, successfully overcame his own battle with colon cancer. And 38-year-old musician James Casey, who is currently undergoing colon cancer treatment following his 2021 diagnosis, has a history of colon and prostate cancer in his family.

Olympus supports the work of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance (CCA) and its “They Didn’t Say” campaign that connects to these celebrity influencers to highlight the disparities in how colorectal cancer affects the African-American community, also dispelling myths about the disease, focusing on the new minimum screening age of 45 and urging families to talk about their health histories. CCA offers a quiz to help people consider screening options based on individual risk factors.