African Americans have a higher cancer burden and face greater obstacles to cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and survival, according to the American Cancer Society. Health organizations such as ONS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are dedicated to breaking down barriers and improve access to quality care and resources for those patients. To increase cancer awareness in one of the most vulnerable segments of the U.S. population, the FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE) dedicated June 1723, 2021, as National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week.

The new program in the Center’s Project Community portfolio was supported by the cancer community, and ONS joined in highlighting important health initiatives. The agency initiated National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week in accordance with the January 20, 2021, Presidential Executive Order, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, and in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act.

“Raising awareness about cancer in Black communities is so important because Black Americans have had the highest mortality rates of any racial and ethnic group for all cancers combined and for most major cancers,” Richard Pazdur, MD, and director of OCE, and Rea Blakey, associate director for external outreach and engagement of OCE, said. “These cancer incidence rates could be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a decrease in preventative health services and screenings, including cancer screenings."

Family awareness of cancer risk is especially important for African Americans, who are more likely to carry genetic variants for cancers like breast, ovarian, and prostate. An understanding of their family risk factors, healthy prevention behaviors for the entire family, and careful adherence to cancer screening recommendations may help prevent someone from ever becoming your patient. Oncology nurses can provide education to their patients and in their communities.

Studies have shown that African American men are more motivated to follow health behaviors and respond to health messages from trusted family members. National Black Family Cancer Awareness week offered dedicated time for families to have those conversations.

Oncology nurses can advocate for racial and social determinants in health care to break barriers for disadvantaged populations. Access materials and resources on providing cancer care to communities of color, and join ONS in advocating to make a difference in combatting health disparities for patient populations.