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What Physicians Can Do to Tackle Issues of Race in Cancer Screening and Treatment

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November 11, 2020

Despite Knowledge About Health Disparities, Differences in Screening and Care Still Exist

  • Doctors have been discussing health disparities in cancer screenings for decades, but little has been done to remedy them
  • Patients with a strong family history need to be screened in a timely fashion by their primary care provider
  • Physicians should keep in mind that their minority patients seek the same outcomes as their white patients
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Disparities in screenings among those with a family history of cancer are clearly documented in the medical literature. Still, little has changed in our practice to address them.

“We’ve been talking about health disparities for decades. We have all of the information that we need. We know why health disparities exist, but we’ve not acted on it,” Dr. Anita Johnson, chief of surgery at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Atlanta, GA tells SurvivorNet.

Patients with a strong family history need to be screened in a timely fashion, and that needs to happen at the primary care provider level. “They need to say, ‘you have so many relatives with prostate cancer. You need to get screened, genetic testing, and see a provider,'” Dr. Johnson says.

One potential stumbling block is the insurance companies. “The physician can only take action when the insurance companies work with us,” she adds. “Based on a family history and great documentation, we should have approval from the insurance companies to actually pay for screening for those particular patients.”

Providers should also keep in mind that their minority patients want — and deserve — the same results as white patients. For example, Black and Hispanic women with breast cancer are sometimes rushed into a mastectomy when this surgery isn’t indicated. “Just be very careful, because in a lot of cases, you are able to keep your breasts intact with the same outcome,” Dr. Johnson tells SurvivorNet. “For my colleagues, I would say when you’re treating minority patients, they want the same outcome as Caucasian patients and you should offer them just that.”