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Massey helps kick off the inaugural National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week

Jun 28, 2021

Winn participates in a webinar.

For generations, some Black individuals in the United States have kept their health histories to themselves because they considered it taboo to discuss diagnoses with their family members.

With this cultural tendency in mind, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Oncology Center of Excellence (OCE) Project Community Initiative observed its first ever National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, June 17-23, 2021. To initiate the campaign on June 17, the OCE hosted a virtual panel discussion called Engaging the Generations.

Among the panelists was Robert Winn, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center.

“Family secrets kill. We have for a long time as African American families [said], ‘So and so died of something,’” said Winn. “It’s crazy to me. African American families get together, start probing [and] find out that there were a number of people who died from cancer and just didn’t say anything.”

Moderated by Rea Blakey, the OCE associate director of external outreach and engagement, the panel discussion aimed to increase cancer awareness in one of the most vulnerable populations within the U.S.

The American Cancer Society reports Black Americans have the highest mortality rate along with the shortest survival rate for most cancers.

Because Black families are among the most vulnerable and hardest hit for cancer risk, diagnoses and poor outcomes, Winn called for not only increasing access but also paying more attention to the quality of care available.

“We know that prevention is the best strategy. You have some cancers that we can screen for and others we can’t,” Winn explained. “Once upon a time we couldn't do anything about lung cancer or didn’t have procedures, but they’re there. And could be effective.”

Other panelists included Otis Brawley, M.D., Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University; John D. Carpten, Ph.D., chair of the Department and Institute of Translational Genomics at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine; Chris Draft, founder, president and chief executive officer of the Chris Draft Family Foundation and the co-founder of Team Draft; Ahmed Elmi, M.P.H., program officer for the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us research program’s engagement division; Brian M. Rivers, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Cancer Health Equity Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Their discussion touched upon efforts to enroll more diverse patients in clinical trials and how scientists can better communicate with the public.v

Winn shared his vision to start a mentorship program allowing neighborhood representatives to teach the medical community how best to engage residents.

“While we always hammer our communities for being scientifically illiterate, we also are illiterate,” Winn said of clinicians. “And so the goal will be how do we actually get more [resources] to many more people. How do we actually put our communities back into the discussion of our science as opposed to the science impact on the community.”

The FDA COE launched this campaign in accordance with the January 20, 2021, Presidential Executive Order, Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The campaign, denoted on social media with #BlackFamCan, also recognized the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act.

Written by: Amy Lacey

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