The National Institute of Health was the first to define “health disparities”: Health disparities are differences…
in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of diseases and other adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.” Therefore, when I think of “healthy”, I think not only of the improvement in an individual’s well-being, but of decreasing the gap of cancer-related incidents among specific populations.
Disparities in cancer incidences among different racial, ethnic, and under served groups often are lack of health care coverage and low socioeconomic status. Socioeconomic status often predicts an individual’s access to health insurance and education. For example, lack of education can play a role in influencing behaviors that increase risk factors, such as smoking cigarettes, being obese, or not following cancer screening recommendations. These individuals are most likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancers that might have been more effectively treated if they were diagnosed earlier. However, lack of education can also be a factor when determining the type of job someone obtains, as many jobs offer minimal or no health insurance.
While I think the research and work being done on the clinical side is impressive and fascinating, I think that efforts should be increasingly focused on educating individuals in general and on cancer-specific topics. Because while researchers might be closing in on finding a cure, the prevalence of the disease will decrease only minimally if there is not focus on increasing education and access to health coverage.