Racial Disparities in Cancer Prevention

Stephanie Silvera headshot “New Jersey has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation so it’s important to have a better understanding of these disparities.” - Stephanie Silvera

Racial Disparities in Cancer Prevention

Breast and cervical cancer are among the most prevalent cancers for women in the United States with breast cancer accounting for 30 percent of all cancers and 26 percent of cancer deaths, while cervical cancer is the 13th leading cause of cancer for women. Although both cancers can be detected early through screenings, disparities exist among racial and ethnic groups when it comes to taking advantage of such prevention tools.

Stephanie Silvera, associate professor in the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, is exploring the socioeconomic, demographic and behavioral factors that create this situation with the help of a $500,000 career development award from the National Cancer Institute. She is using the award to develop an epidemiologic research program in cancer disparities in New Jersey.

“Non-Hispanic black women tend to have lower rates of breast cancer compared to non-Hispanic white women, but they are more likely to die from it,” notes Silvera. “Hispanic women, by contrast, tend to have lower cancer incidence and mortality rates than both blacks and whites for breast cancers, but higher cervical cancer incidence rates. Also, non-Hispanic black and Hispanic women have higher age- and stage-adjusted cervical cancer mortality rates, compared to non-Hispanic white women.”

According to Silvera, these disparities are explained, in part, by unequal access to cancer screening across socioeconomic and racial groups, but there is also a need to know more about how individual and neighborhood socioeconomic and demographic characteristics affect cancer prevention behaviors as well as the perception of access to cancer screening.

“There is a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the social environment, and it is important to understand both directions if we are going to truly understand why some individuals adhere to cancer screening guidelines when others do not,” explains Silvera adding that by taking both actual and perceived access to screenings into account, researchers can better understand why some groups are at higher risk than others for the same disease outcomes, particularly when genetics can’t fully explain those differences.

“New Jersey has one of the highest cancer rates in the nation so it’s important to have a better understanding of these disparities,” says Silvera. “The study will serve to examine the complex interaction between socioeconomic status and health behaviors, and how they differ between non-Hispanic black, non-Hispanic white and Hispanics in the state.”