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What are cancer health disparities, anyway?

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One of the fun things about being a clinical psychologist is that when I tell strangers my profession, they typically have one of two reactions: they start backing away under the belief that I can read their minds or they immediately start telling me all sorts of personal information that they'll later regret sharing.

On top of that, I usually get a very puzzled look when I tell them that while I truly can read their minds (just kidding), my work involves studying cancer health disparities. And that almost always requires a definition of health disparities, a description of the causes, who it affects and strategies for reducing it.

So, here's the 30-second overview.
 
Health disparities refer to differences in health status and health outcomes among different groups. These differences can result from genetics, environmental factors, access to care and cultural factors. For example:


It's important to note that health disparities affect more than just racial/ethnic minorities. Other groups that experience health disparities include the poor, rural residents, individuals with low literacy and many other groups.
 
Our goal in the Department of Health Disparities Research is to reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities in cancer incidence, morbidity and mortality through research and education. Some examples of our research include:

  • How to help low-income pregnant women who smoke quit and stay that way
  • How to reduce barriers to participating on a breast cancer trial for minority women
  • How migrant farm workers' exposure to pesticides affects not only their genes and risks for cancers, but their children's genes and risks as well 
Of course, no research would be possible without people willing to participate in research. Our programs partner with community organizations to increase awareness and understanding among underserved populations of the role of research and clinical trials in cancer prevention and treatment.
 
Fortunately, our work is attracting more and more interest. We're hoping that we get to the point, as quickly as possible, where I don't have to do any introduction to the topic of health disparities, except as a history lesson.
 

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