Combating Cancer in our Community
By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
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. When my doctor told me I was facing cancer, I was completely surprised. I had no symptoms and was enjoying a variety of sporting activities with no problem.
This is a common story for many people because many forms of cancer do not present noticeable symptoms until the disease has spread or become more advanced, meaning that preventative actions and early diagnosis are critically important. Recently, America celebrated National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, which provides us with an ideal opportunity to discuss the impact cancer has on our community. Discussing the importance of regular health check-ups and cancer screenings can reduce the prevalence of this deadly disease.
In my case, it was an annual check-up that saved my life. Through the prostate screening and blood tests that are a part of my regular physical, I was fortunate enough to catch the cancer in its early stages, before it had spread to my lymph nodes or other vital organs.
But not everyone is as lucky. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), African Americans have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial and ethnic group in the U.S. for most cancers.
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. The same holds true in California, where the Department of Public Health found that African-American women with breast cancer are “more likely to die from the disease than women of any other race due to a larger percentage of the breast cancers being diagnosed at a later, less treatable stage.” Two crucial factors in detecting and fighting breast cancer are regular mammograms and monthly self-exams. While California’s African American women have some of the highest rates of mammogram testing among all ethnic groups, we need to encourage more preventative actions to help reduce the prevalence of cancer in our community.
We all have a personal role to play in preventing cancer. First and foremost, if you’re a smoker, stop! According to the ACS, lung cancer is among the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the African American community. 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.
I can also not stress enough the need for everyone to receive regular check ups and cancer screenings. Contact the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345 or www.cancer.org) to get connected with the cancer-diagnosis resources and information in your community, including local assistance programs and support networks.
Hope exists 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 report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) 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. One 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 prescription medicines, including those needed to treat cancer, there are programs that can help. The Partnership for Prescription 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 prescription medicines are available through the participating programs. So far, the program has already helped nearly 5 million people in need nationwide.
I am truly blessed that my cancer was detected at an early, treatable stage, and that I still have the opportunity to share my story and advice with you. We need to continue to communicate with each other about how information, preventative actions and access to treatment can help us combat cancer to create a healthier community for us all.