News & Politics

Discrimination Making You Sick?

People who perceive some form of discrimination from their health care providers are less likely to seek preventive care.
Can discrimination make you sick? Apparently, it can.

There are troubling differences in cancer survival rates between groups based on their race or ethnicity. Part of the solution, of course, is to make sure all groups have equal access to care. Eliminating barriers to care would help to close the cancer survival and mortality gaps, but that won't completely solve the problem. The qualityof care received also plays a significant part in health outcomes-how a doctor interacts with a patient, not just the treatment offered to a patient-can affect that patient's life expectancy.

So what happens when a patient is, or feels, discriminated against? According to a recent Stanford University study, perceived discrimination influences health outcomes. In other words, if you feel you've been discriminated against, it affects you.

Women who perceived some form of discrimination from their health care providers were a third less likely to have a mammogram and half as likely to be screened for colorectal cancer. Men who perceived discrimination were 70 percent less likely to be screened for colorectal cancer, despite having a regular source of care. The longer cancer screening is delayed, the worse the potential outcome-making this literally a matter of life and death. 

Despite advances in cancer detection, treatment, and research, people of color are still more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at later stages and more likely to die from the disease. For communities of color, breast and colorectal cancer are two of the top three cancers that are diagnosed and cause death.

As we find new ways to detect and treat cancer, we must make sure that everyone benefits from those advances. And that means finding new ways to detect and treat another deadly disease: discrimination.
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