The unique intersection between Black Americans and cancer is a topic we can no longer afford to ignore. A perfect time to begin conversations is to recognize the second annual National Black Family Cancer Awareness week, held from June 16-22, 2022. The campaign is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Oncology Center’s response to President Biden’s Executive Order in 2021 advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities through the federal government after the murder of George Floyd.
Black Americans have the highest mortality rates of any racial and ethnic group of all cancers combined. According to the American Cancer Society, about 224,080 new cancer cases and 73,680 cancer deaths are expected to occur among Black people in 2022. Moreover, Black Americans also have the shortest survival rate of any racial/ethnic group in the United States for most cancers. My immediate family exemplifies the most prevalent cancers taking Black lives: dad (prostate and lung cancer), uncle (lung cancer) and aunts (breast and ovarian cancer). A cancer with less notoriety, but impacting persons of African descent twice the rate of whites is Multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer. Since my husband’s diagnosis in 2021, our immediate family and friend network has revealed three friends who lost parents to multiple myeloma, a childhood friend who lived with the disease for more than a decade and a cousin who is celebrating a successful stem cell transplant.
Multiple Myeloma is a unique cancer because it mutates differently in each patient requiring customized therapies. Participating in research studies provides information and data doctors need to design and improve individual treatments. This is true for all clinical trials. One of the reasons Blacks have a lower survival rate is because participation in clinical trials is low and as a result researchers are unable to treat Blacks appropriately. According to the Standing in the Gaap, African Americans make up 20% of people living with multiple myeloma, however, as of 2018, only 8.6% of African American patients participate in clinical trials.
We need treatments designed with our data, not that of privileged White males who are the majority of clinical trial participants. Medicine is not a one pill fits all.
The purpose of the FDA’s National Black Cancer Awareness Week is to build knowledge surrounding cancer clinical trial participation in the most vulnerable populations. I want to personally challenge the FDA’s Oncology Center to deepen its commitment to Black cancer awareness by addressing the systemic barriers to health care; increasing national and local partnerships with cancer organizations such as the MMRF, The Promise Study, American Cancer Society and National Institute for Minority Health. Expanding this campaign to more than a webinar and social media posts; and investing in Black scholars and doctors with internships and endowments.
I challenge Black families to watch Oprah Winfrey’s The Color of Care and understand you are not alone in receiving substandard care. We must demand health justice at all levels, hospitals, doctor offices, clinics and schools. I want Black families to honestly and openly talk about their health trees. If multiple myeloma is part of your history, enroll in The Promise Study, a program designed to detect early warning signs of multiple myeloma at no cost from the comfort of your home.
Most importantly, I want everyone to become a health advocate and ask questions, seek second opinions, and investigate holistic treatments. We must help the FDA approve drugs designed to save Black lives.