Carol Brown, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Chief Health Equity Officer, shared information about cancer health equity during two expert panels in February.
Dr. Brown leads MSK’s Office of Health Equity. She and her team are guiding MSK’s efforts to ensure there is equity in cancer care.
Equity means that each person has the appropriate resources, opportunities, and support they need to live a healthy life. It also means people understand their cancer risk and have access to cancer screening, treatment, and survivorship care.
Online Event With the White House
On February 2, 2022, President Biden announced a renewed commitment to the government’s Cancer Moonshot program. The initiative will have new goals. It will aim to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years. It will also work to improve the experience of those living with and surviving cancer.
On February 23, 2022, Dr. Brown joined the White House Office of Public Engagement for Cancer in Color: Equitable Care for Our Communities. This event honored Black History Month and highlighted the importance of racial equity in healthcare laws and cancer care.
The panel included Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and Latoya Hill, Senior Policy Analyst at the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Kimberly Jeffries Leonard, President of The Links, Incorporated, moderated the event.
A Closer Look: Endometrial Cancer
During the panel, Dr Brown spoke about the disparities, or differences, certain groups of people face when it comes to endometrial cancer.
“For the last 40 years in the United States, Black women with endometrial cancer have had a 25% lower survival rate than white women,” she said. “That 40 years includes some incredible advances in cancer treatment, but there is still a large gap.”
Access to quality care or insurance coverage does not tell the full story behind this statistic.
“Black people are more likely to get aggressive subtypes of endometrial cancer that may be harder to treat,” she said. “Clinical trials offer the newest treatments. Black women, and all people of color, should consider participating in those studies.”
In 2021, MSK’s Office of Health Equity launched the Endometrial Cancer Equity Program. This program uses community outreach and connection to help identify people at high risk for endometrial cancer. These people are then offered education and care. The program has reached hundreds of people in predominantly Black neighborhoods across Long Island, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Dr. Brown offered other tips during this panel. She encouraged people of color to ask their doctor for follow-up tests if they are experiencing a worrisome symptom, such as abnormal bleeding. She suggested learning about your family’s health history to help understand your own cancer risk. And she reminded people to be screened regularly for cancers.
“A colonoscopy is the test used to screen for colorectal cancer,” she said. “This test makes it possible to find and remove polyps before they turn into cancer.”
Recognizing World Cancer Day
On February 3, 2022, Dr. Brown participated in a panel called Understanding and Addressing Racial Disparities in Cancer Outcomes, Care, and Treatment. KFF and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) hosted the event, which was held in honor of World Cancer Day (February 4).
The panel included Wenora Johnson, Cancer Research and Patient Advocate, and Lori Pierce, Professor and Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the University of Michigan, among others.
When Should You Be Screened?
Dr. Brown shared that increased access to screening is helping to close the cancer care gap.
“Local and regional governments and community-based partnerships have made an impact by making screening more widely available,” she said.
Different organizations create guidelines that recommend when people should be screened for cancer. These organizations include government agencies such as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, advocacy organizations such as the American Cancer Society, and hospitals such as MSK.
These guidelines provide another opportunity to address cancer health disparities.
A Closer Look: Cervical Cancer
For many decades, screening for cervical cancer has used the simple and inexpensive Pap smear test. A widely available HPV vaccine helps prevent cervical cancer. And yet, people of color still die from the disease at an alarming rate.
A lack of access to screening and care contributes to this disparity. But Dr. Brown suggested the screening guidelines themselves may not reflect the experiences of people of color.
“A cancer screening guideline may recommend a test every three or four years, but in the real world, things happen,” she said. “People move, switch providers, or change their insurance, and that might mean a person gets that test every five or six years.”
“Guidelines are helpful, but providers should consider the person in front of them and not ignore obvious symptoms of a potential cancer,” she said.