A Maryland doctor wants black Americans to ask about family histories that might indicate they are at higher risk for certain diseases and cancers.

Do you know if any of your grandparents were ever diagnosed with cancer? What about aunts, uncles or siblings? A Maryland doctor wants black Americans to ask about family histories that might indicate they are at higher risk for certain diseases and cancers.

“National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week is designed to raise cancer awareness among one of our most vulnerable segments of the US population, the black population,” said Dr. Eddye Bullock, associate director of adult family medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Baltimore.

“And knowing the warning signs and what to look for to reduce those bad health outcomes. Because if we catch cancer early, we might be able to save your life or prevent other things that aren’t so good,” she said.

Bullock said it was unfortunate that in black communities in the past it had been very taboo to discuss family medical histories, which “does not serve the patient.”

dr Eddye Bullock is Associate Director of Adult Family Medicine in Baltimore for Kaiser Permanente. (Courtesy of Kaiser Permanente)

Knowing family history can alter the screening process when there are multiple first-degree relatives, such as grandparents, parents, or siblings, with certain types of cancer.

“For example, for breast cancer, if you have had breast cancer and had it at a certain age, your screening interval may change, it may need to start earlier and more frequently. You may need additional testing that may need to be done,” Bullock said.

The four most common cancers — lung, breast, prostate and colon — account for more than half of all cancer cases in the black community. In addition to family history, it’s important to know what to look for.

  • lung cancer: How much and how long you smoke can affect when to start lung cancer screening.
  • breast cancer: Family history may put you at greater risk and influence when you should start breast cancer screening and discussions with your doctor.
  • prostate cancer: Changes in urination may indicate the need to see a family doctor.
  • colon cancer: Symptoms may include changes in stool or bowel habits, constipation, abdominal pain, or blood in the stool.

Bullock believes people should be committed to their health, speak openly with their doctors, and seek care elsewhere when needed.

“You want to feel like you have that confidence, that you’re being heard and listened to. And that everything you are told will be explained. So if the doctor says things that you don’t fully understand, you have to say, “Hey, I’m not clear on that. Please explain why we are doing this – why?’ And the doctor should be able to explain to you a little bit better why we’re doing this, why we’re not doing this,” she said.

A recent report published in JAMA Oncology, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that “From 1999 to 2019, cancer mortality among Black people decreased significantly, the cancer mortality rate among Black men and women was higher than that of other racial and ethnic groups in 2019. “

The report’s authors state that more attention should be paid to understanding the contribution of social inequalities to higher cancer mortality rates in black communities.

“Addressing inequalities that contribute to race disparities in cancer mortality requires policies aimed at addressing adverse socio-environmental conditions and determinants that contribute to inequalities across the continuum of care,” the report states.

“In 2019, black people continued to have the highest cancer mortality rates compared to other racial and ethnic groups, suggesting the need to address pervasive racial and ethnic inequalities. Eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in cancer mortality requires equitable access to cancer prevention, early detection, and timely and guideline-based, high-quality care.”

Bullock advises caregivers to address cancer risk factors and screening for black patients, regardless of the purpose of a doctor’s visit.

“Because we know that many patients, especially black patients, may not have easy access because of their jobs and may not be on sick leave. So when they come to us about their back pain, we address those cancer screening tests. “Are you in the loop?” We’re not waiting for you to come in for the exam,” she said.

Bullock also emphasizes that a healthy lifestyle, which includes smoking cessation, a healthy diet with a balanced diet, and exercise, can help reduce risk.

“Because we know that obesity can contribute to several types of cancer,” Bullock said.