• Cancer

    Mayo Clinic expert addresses cancer disparities during Black Family Cancer Awareness Week

a young African American family, a Black man and Black woman, smiling and sitting on a couch with a young Black child looking at a computer tablet or iPad together

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Black people have the highest death rate and shortest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. In Black men, prostate cancer death rates are more than double that of any other racial or ethnic group, and Black women are 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women.

These disparities are driving many efforts to raise awareness about cancer prevention and care in Black communities, such as Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, which takes place June 15–21.

Mayo Clinic expert Kim Barbel Johnson, D.O., says culture differences, personal behaviors, genetics and health literacy all contribute to a person's access to cancer care, routine preventive screenings and, ultimately, their cancer risk.

"It's important for healthcare providers to continue to educate and provide resources to members of the Black community about cancer prevention and the importance of getting screened early and regularly, especially if there is a history of cancer in the family," says Dr. Barbel Johnson, a primary care doctor and director of Community Clinical Trials at Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center. "I encourage people to talk openly with members of their family to learn about the family's health history and to stay in touch with their primary care provider who can provide support and resources about prevention, screenings and cancer care."

More diverse racial and ethnic participation in cancer research is also important to understand and improve outcomes for people in those groups, Dr. Barbel Johnson adds.  

"In order to make advances in lowering the death rates for the Black community, we must reach out and encourage underrepresented populations to be part of the solution that will advance the science that brings them earlier cancer therapies," says Dr. Barbel Johnson. "Cancer care is not one-size-fits-all, and having Black people participate in clinical trials may lead to better responsive medications, more effective medications and more effective screening tools."

If patients are educated about cancer, prevention, screening and care, they will feel empowered to become advocates for themselves and for others, she says.

Dr. Barbel Johnson is available for interviews on health disparities and ways to improve access to care, how families can plan conversations about family health history, encouraging preventive screenings and ways to participate in cancer research.

Additional resources:

Mayo Clinic Minute: Preventing cancer for future generations of Black families


About Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center
Designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer InstituteMayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center is defining new boundaries in possibility, focusing on patient-centered care, developing novel treatments, training future generations of cancer experts, and bringing cancer research to communities. At Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, a culture of innovation and collaboration is driving research breakthroughs that are changing approaches to cancer prevention, screening, and treatment and improving the lives of cancer survivors.

About Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to innovation in clinical practice, education and research, and providing compassion, expertise and answers to everyone who needs healing. Visit the Mayo Clinic News Network for additional Mayo Clinic news.

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