By Matt Chittum
Otis Brawley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, will discuss disparities in how cancer is prevented, diagnosed, and treated in a talk titled, “Cancer Control in the 21st Century with Special Attention to Disparities in Health.”
The talk, at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9, is the first in the 2021-22 season of the Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series, hosted by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.
The series is named for Maury Strauss, a Roanoke businessman and longtime community benefactor who recognized the importance of bringing leading-edge scientists to Roanoke.
Attendees must register online in advance to attend the lecture in person in the auditorium at 2 Riverside Circle on the research institute’s Roanoke campus. Attendees will follow strict public health guidelines. The lecture will also be streamed virtually via Zoom and on the research institute’s website.
An estimated 600,000 Americans will die of cancer this year, according to the American
Cancer Society. But why some will survive and others won’t is not always determined by the disease alone.
A college education, for instance, with all of the economic and health care benefits that typically come with it can make an enormous difference, according to Brawley, an international expert in cancer prevention and control.
“More than one-in-five cancers would go away if everybody had what college educated Americans have,” Brawley said in a lecture last year at Emory University. “This is just giving people what we already know exists: the whole spectrum of prevention, diagnosis and screening, and treatment.”
In 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer was the second leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But while death rates for both cancer and heart disease are declining, cancer is projected to become the most common cause of death in the U.S. in the next five to 10 years.
Brawley notes that while Black Americans have seen the greatest decline in cancer deaths over recent decades, they started from the highest point. Racial and other disparities have remained stubborn despite more people surviving cancer overall.
A lack of high-quality health care, good screening, and prevention are to blame, Brawley said.
“We have underemphasized prevention in the United States,” Brawley said in the 2020 Emory University talk.
The top causes of cancer are smoking and being overweight, both of which are preventable, yet are more prevalent among minority and low-income populations, he said.
Increasingly, disparities in cancer survival are geographic, he noted, with many states in the southeastern U.S. lagging behind much of the country in improvements to cancer survival rates.