What is National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, with Luckson Mathieu, MD, and Rea Blakey

June 15, 2023
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June 15th to June 21st, 2023, marks the third annual National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, an initiative led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's, or FDA's, Oncology Center of Excellence to increase cancer awareness within the Black community. Today we're going to be talking about cancer disparities in the Black community, the importance of cancer screening and prevention for Black families, and resources available to Black families for support. Our guests today are Dr. Luckson Mathieu and Rea Blakey. 



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Brielle Collins: Hi everyone, I'm Brielle Gregory Collins, a member of the Cancer.Net content team, and I'll be your host for today's Cancer.Net podcast. Cancer.Net is the patient information website of ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology. June 15th to June 21st, 2023, marks the third annual National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, an initiative led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's, or FDA's, Oncology Center of Excellence to increase cancer awareness within the Black community. Today we're going to be talking about cancer disparities in the Black community, the importance of cancer screening and prevention for Black families, and resources available to Black families for support. Our guests today are Dr. Luckson Mathieu and Rea Blakey.

Dr. Mathieu is a thoracic oncologist at the FDA in the Division of Oncology 2. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Mathieu.

Dr. Luckson Mathieu: Happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Brielle Collins: Ms. Blakey is the Associate Director for External Outreach and Engagement at the Oncology Center of Excellence and leads the National Black Family Cancer Awareness Initiative for the Oncology Center of Excellence Project Community. Thanks for joining us today, Ms. Blakey.

Rea Blakey: Thank you, happy to be here.

Brielle Collins: Before we begin, we should mention that Dr. Mathieu and Ms. Blakey do not have any relationships to disclose related to this podcast, but you can find their full disclosure statements on Cancer.Net. Now to begin, Dr. Mathieu, research has shown that Black people are more adversely affected by cancer than other racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. Can you describe some of the cancer disparities that exist in the Black community?

Luckson Mathieu: Sure, thank you for that question. Before providing a description, I would like to first define cancer health disparities. The National Cancer Institute, or the NCI, defines cancer health disparities as adverse differences that exist among certain population groups and cancer measures, such as numbers of cases, the number of deaths, cancer-related health complications, and quality of life after cancer treatment. Black and African American people have higher rates of acquiring and dying from cancer compared to members of other races. For many of the most common types of cancer, including breast, lung, prostate, and colorectal, the incidence and deaths are higher among African Americans than any other racial and ethnic groups. Furthermore, despite having similar rates of breast cancer, African American women are more likely than White women to die of this disease. African American men have a prostate cancer death rate more than double than that of men of other racial groups. Unfortunately, my description is a brief depiction of an alarming and expansive reality.

Brielle Collins: Thank you for walking through that, Dr. Mathieu. And thank you, too, for providing that definition of disparities. And Ms. Blakey, can you describe the purpose of National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week and its role in addressing these disparities and raising cancer awareness in the Black community?

Rea Blakey: Sure, happy to. The purpose of the National Black Family Cancer Awareness initiative and the dedicated social media week is to increase cancer awareness in one of the most vulnerable segments of the U.S. population, as you just heard described. OCE's Project Community appreciates ASCO's Cancer.Net involvement, absolutely. We also aim to marshal community-based stakeholders, faith-based organizations, historically Black colleges and universities, Black sororities and fraternities, all of this to increase cancer awareness and to build knowledge surrounding cancer clinical trial participation, as well as minority population donations to national genetic databases for cancer research. So OCE's Project Community is the hub of the social media campaign for the National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week via our hashtag, #BlackFamCan. Project Community's intent is to enlist and encourage a wide array of public and private community-focused engagement entities, organizations, families even, throughout the U.S. and beyond, to support efforts to increase cancer clinical trial awareness. So with a common and concerted mission, organizers are urged to focus their supportive endeavors and activities to occur during National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week. That's also in conjunction with the White House Cancer Moonshot Goals.

Brielle Collins: Wonderful, and it sounds like that hashtag, #BlackFamCan, is a good place for people to go if they want to learn more as the week progresses.

Rea Blakey: Absolutely.

Brielle Collins: Wonderful. And Ms. Blakey, what do you think is most important for Black families to know about their cancer risk?

Rea Blakey: The hashtag, #BlackFamCan, and there's also a tagline that's called “Engaging the Generations.” So we know African Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial and ethnic groups for all cancers combined and for most major cancers. That contributes to a lower life expectancy, obviously, for African American men and women. And so with that, the real effort here is to get people to talk to their families. All too often, families don't really know their own cancer history, and some find it just too difficult to talk about, especially with older generations who may have associated a stigma with a cancer diagnosis, or those who just don't tell to avoid being perceived as a burden to others in their family. So engaging the generations is one of the key aspects of personal or familial cancer awareness and understanding risk and mapping out preventive strategies and pursuing cancer screening. Not only does it take a village, but it requires every generation.

Brielle Collins: Absolutely. And I want to build on that piece of cancer screening. So Dr. Mathieu, can you talk a little bit about why cancer screening is so important and some of the hurdles that Black families may face in getting regular screening?

Luckson Mathieu: Yeah, absolutely. So cancer screening tests, such as Pap smears, mammogram, low-dose CT scans, and colonoscopy, can help find cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear. When abnormal tissue and cancer is found early, it may be the best time or the more easier time to treat. And treatment may even result in cure. By the time symptoms appear, cancers may have grown and spread, thereby making it more challenging to treat and/or cure. Black people are at the highest risk for cancer deaths. This increased mortality risk may reflect a later stage disease at the time of diagnosis among Black patients. Cancer screening is so important for everyone, especially Black people, because it helps identify cancer early and thereby allows for better clinical outcomes. Regarding the hurdles for cancer screening, I believe the hurdles varies for each family. There may be many complex and interrelated factors that can stand in the way of screening for Black families. Each family should directly address that question of what is in the way of getting appropriate screening for cancer. Identifying and overcoming the hurdles may be the best way to address this cancer screening disparity.

Brielle Collins: Got it. Thank you for walking through that. And in terms of resources, Dr. Mathieu, what resources are available to help Black people access this screening?

Luckson Mathieu: So your primary care physician can serve as a good start to discover cancer screening resources. Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services announced the Accelerating Cancer Screening Program. The program's goal is to accelerate access to cancer screening as part of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. I would encourage everyone to go online and consider the role a local HRSA-supported health center can play in the process of getting screened for cancer. In addition, NCCN.org, CDC.gov, American Cancer Society, and the FDA are great online resources to obtain more information on cancer screening.

Brielle Collins: Perfect. And I really want to talk about that cancer prevention piece, too, which is another incredibly important element of this. So why is cancer prevention in particular so important, and what measures can Black families take to prevent cancer?

Luckson Mathieu: Yeah, cancer prevention is important because the best treatment for cancer is to prevent it from occurring at all or catch it at the earliest and most curable stage. In addition, cancer prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy to manage cancer’s devastating societal impact. As previously mentioned, screening tests can find cancers early when they are treatable and it has the prospect of cure. In addition to regular screening tests, everyday behaviors such as not smoking cigarettes, maintaining a healthy weight, and being vaccinated against certain cancer-causing viruses can all help prevent cancer from developing.

Brielle Collins: Thank you. And Ms. Blakey, going back to some resources, what resources are available to help Black families as they navigate cancer screening and prevention?

Rea Blakey: Well, I'll start with the prevention aspect first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, has great resource information for reducing cancer risk. Anyone can share the web page links or even print out materials to hand out to their communities. There's information on the importance of family health history and cancer, on the correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer, cancers related to obesity, smoking cessation resources. And often these resources are culturally curated to meet the needs of a variety of communities, including African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ. For resources to help families navigate cancer screening, I would recommend that all Americans become familiar with the recommended cancer screening tests that are listed on the National Cancer Institute webpage. It's specific to screening tests. So along with becoming aware of the cancer screening possibilities, you would also want to find a health care provider that you trust. We know trust is a huge issue. And ask questions to help you understand the best cancer screening plan for you. NCI's resource, for example, recommends you ask questions like, are any cancer screening tests recommended for me and which ones? And what's the purpose of the test? Does the test require preparation? How do I do that? These are questions you should be comfortable asking your health care provider and know more about so that you are well equipped to do as much as you can, to make sure that your screening options are actually taken advantage of, and that you do what you can to reduce your risk. You might also want to ask, how often should I have the test and at what age should I stop having that test?

Brielle Collins: Got it. Thank you for that. And I know we touched on this earlier in the podcast, but I just want to circle it back here with National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week. But where can people go online throughout this week? We mentioned that hashtag, #BlackFamCan, but are there other resources available during the week that people can go to online?

Rea Blakey: Absolutely. We have a webpage and a dedicated social media toolkit. So anyone who uses an online search engine and looks up National Black Family Cancer Awareness should see our webpage. On that page, you will find all kinds of resources that include, for example, in the social media toolkit, videos and graphics, as well as a customizable selfie frame for those who are, please do use the hashtag #BlackFamCan. Thank you.

Brielle Collins: Wonderful. It sounds like it's going to be a very engaging week. Thank you for that. And thank you both so much for your time and for sharing your expertise today, Dr. Mathieu and Ms. Blakey. It was so great having you both.

Rea Blakey: Thank you, Brielle!

Luckson Mathieu: Thank you very much.

Brielle Collins: For more information, you can view this podcast on Cancer.Net, where you can also find a link to all the resources mentioned around National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week.

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