A cancer diagnosis can be a devastating blow for patients and their loved ones. I should know: I am a 10-year survivor of prostate cancer, and when my doctor told me I was facing the dreaded \”c\” word, no one was more surprised than me, my family and friends.
That’s because many cancers, including prostate cancer, don’t present noticeable symptoms until the disease has spread or become more advanced. During April we celebrate the annual National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, and there’s no better time to be reminded of the importance of regular health check-ups and cancer screenings.
For me, it was an annual physical that saved my life. I had no symptoms and was enjoying a variety of sporting activities with no problem. Through the prostate screening and blood tests that are a part of my regular physicals, I was fortunate enough to catch the cancer in its early stages, before it had spread to my lymph nodes or other vital organs.
Not everyone is so lucky. In fact, overall, African-Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). One reason for this disparity is that people in our community are more likely to be diagnosed later, with more advanced cancer, which is harder to treat.
Consider breast cancer. The ACS finds that though African-American women are less likely to get breast cancer, they are 28 percent more likely to die from it than white women. Regular mammograms and monthly self-checks are critical to lowering this statistic. Improved access to care is also important: A study from Columbia University Medical Center found that African-American women with early stage breast cancer are less likely to finish chemotherapy treatment.
We all have a personal role to play in preventing cancer. First and foremost, if you’re a smoker, stop! Among the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the African-American community is lung cancer, according to the ACS. This is largely preventable – in fact, smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is hope for those battling cancer. Thanks in part to innovative medicines, there are 3 million more cancer survivors today than there were a decade ago, according to a Columbia University study. And a new PhRMA report shows that there are 750 new medicines in development today to treat various types of cancer, including 110 for lung cancer, 90 for breast cancer and 88 for prostate cancer. For example, potential treatment in development is a first-in-class medicine designed to target specific cancer cells and kill them, then activate the patient’s general immune system to destroy cancer.
For those who need help affording their pre scri ption medicines, including those needed to treat cancer, there are programs that can help. The Partnership for Pre scri ption Assistance (1-888-4PPA-NOW or www.pparx.org), a national program sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies, provides a single point of access to information on more than 475 patient assistance programs. More than 2,500 brand-name and generic pre scri ption medicines are available through the participating programs. So far, the program has already helped nearly 5 million people in need nationwide.
Larry Lucas is a vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).