Let's Celebrate Minority Cancer Awareness Week

April is National Minority Health Awareness month. Let's start talking about it.

I just want to start this week off with a disclaimer: I am not, by any means, writing this post to cause a divide between races. It is based on my experience, as a Latina survivor, and coupled with the research that indicates that cancer does affect certain minorities differently, but people don't really talk about it very much.

There’s a chance that you may be wondering why we need a National Minority Awareness Week, and National Minority Health Awareness Month (all of April), devoted to minorities in the first place. First of all, thank you for reading this article to find out and secondly, let me line up the reasons.

1. Minorities are being diagnosed at later stages.

While it’s true that caucasians are diagnosed with more cancers per year than minority groups according to statistics, the challenges vary. The most pressing concern for minority groups are what kinds of cancers are disproportionately affecting them and at what stages they are diagnosed.

According to a recent Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention study, Black and Latina women tend to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a more advanced stage with reduced survival rates when compared to their white friends. Similarly, a study on colorectal cancer showed that minorities under the age of 50 were twice as likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer compared to non-Hispanic whites, with more advances stages.

2. Our mortality rates are disproportionately higher.

There have been multiple studies conducted about the most common types of cancer incidences and deaths, and why certain minority groups have much higher incidence of mortality rates than others for specific cancers.

When it comes to cancer, I'm not a statistics type of person, because we are so much more than numbers. But in this case, it's the best way to outline just what we're dealing with here. Here are just a couple:

      - Black women are

41 percent more likely to die

      of breast cancer than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

      - The cancer death rate among African American men is 27% higher compared to non-Hispanic white men, according to the American Cancer Society.

      - Hispanics have higher rates of cervical, liver, and stomach cancers than non-Hispanic whites.

      - Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders had twice the rate of liver and stomach cancers as whites, which they hypothesized was due to an infection of a strand of bacterium--although they don’t know much more than that.

      - Native American populations don’t have accurate censuses, so their data is suspected to be skewed from the get-go.

      And statistics for people of different sexual orientation don’t even make it to the yearly consensus.

3. There’s a lot less research out there.

Health providers may be more lax to invest in research for minority populations because of the deceiving statistics of their incidences, although it’s known that they are more frequently subject to cancers that have proven to be less responsive to treatment. This can translate into delays in diagnosis during the disease’s earlier and treatable stage. It can also look like a lack of referrals or recommendations for screenings.

A 2014 Cancer study found that less than 2 percent of clinical cancer trials focus on people who are not white. Blacks and Latinos have the lowest rates of cancer clinical trial participation. This is a concern for both research and publish health reasons - without adequate minority enrollment, it's harder for researchers to figure out the causes for these health disparities.

4. We don't talk about it enough.

Like I said, as a minority cancer survivor, I can't help but feel like this conversation hasn't begun yet. Most of the minority survivors who I know had no idea about their family history of cancer, prior to their diagnosis. This doesn't surprise me at all, because frankly, health isn't something that is talked about in certain cultures. As a result, we don't get screened as often, and tend not to be fully aware of all of the health issues that are possible.This needs to change. The first step is for us, the minority survivors and fighters, to start talking about it. If we don't start the conversation, who will?

We need to figure out what minority cancer fighters, survivors and supporters NEED, and we need to give it to them. So if you are one, please comment on this article and tell me – what do you want the world to know about your cancer experience?

To better understand cancer disparities, American Cancer Society researchers continuously analyze and report on cancer statistics and trends in the United States. They publish their findings in an ongoing series of reports, titled Cancer Facts & Figures.

Image courtesy of Sunny Norton Photography, from June 2015 IHC event