April is National Minority Health Month, and it’s an important time to recognize the impact of different diseases on communities of color. Because of systemic problems in our health system, people of color, particularly African Americans, are disproportionately impacted by negative health outcomes.
Prostate cancer impacts more than three million men in the U.S., but Black men are disproportionately impacted by the disease. They are 75% more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men, and more than twice as likely to die from the disease compared to men of other ethnicities.
To help combat these disparities, Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, has funded initiatives to detect prostate cancer early, with a focus on Black men. He donated to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to support the development of the Smith Polygenic Risk Test, a low-cost, early detection test that will identify a man’s lifetime prostate cancer risk.
Smith also supported Mount Sinai’s new mobile MRI unit, which will provide prostate cancer screenings in local neighborhoods where they can also spread information on risk factors. The unit will be dispatched to highly concentrated black communities in New York City starting at the end of the summer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women after non-melanoma skin cancer, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death. Black women are particularly impacted, and are 40% more likely to die from the disease.
To help close these gaps, the Fund ll Foundation, of which Robert F. Smith is the founding director and President, granted Susan G. Komen $27 million to reduce racial disparities in breast cancer mortality rates. The initiative will work to advance research into new treatments for aggressive disease and use next-generation technology to detect breast cancer early.
“No longer should African-American women be more likely to die from a breast cancer diagnosis than others,” said Smith. “Through this grant supporting Susan G. Komen, Fund II Foundation will help address these unfair disparities across our country.”
Women of color are also more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, and the disparity increases with age. Black women older than 30 are four to five times more likely to suffer pregnancy-related deaths than white women, according to CDC research.
It’s impossible to note the gap in outcomes for Black women without recognizing the role that bias plays in their care. Implicit and explicit biases in healthcare can influence whether Black women attend postpartum visits.
As noted in a 2020 study published in The Lancet, researchers Yousof Omeish and Samantha Kiernan found that “These inequities not only stem from socioeconomic factors affecting access to and quality of care, but are also linked to the stresses of racism — individual and institutional — and their long-term physiological implications. Additionally, implicit and explicit biases in health care can influence whether Black women attend postpartum visits and could, in part, explain these racial disparities.”
Bias can also extend to the care itself. Tennis champion Serena Williams notably nearly died after giving birth, despite showing symptoms of complications and reporting those complications to her provider.
As racial gaps continue to occur in our healthcare system and create uneven outcomes, it’s important to recognize them and find ways to end them. Learn more about racial disparities in health outcomes for prostate cancer, breast cancer and maternal health.