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Racial gap in cancer mortality prompts Yale Cancer Center to hire more navigators

Caregiver holding hands of her patient in hospital room.
FG Trade / Getty Images / stock photo
Caregiver holding hands of her patient in hospital room.

The death of Bloomfield basketball coach Kevin Moses from colon cancer in September, drew attention to cancer mortality rates in Connecticut's Black community.

“We have care that is available across the state in 14 different locations. And that care will be highly sub-specialized care; the same care that’s available at the main campus in New Haven,” said Dr. Eric Winer, director, Yale Cancer Center, on CT Public’ Radio’s Where We Live. “But building it isn’t enough. And one part is helping people come in, so that’s where navigation comes in. [A navigator is] somebody who’s a knowledgeable friend, who’s there with you all the time, and who helps make sure that the appointments get made and you have the support you need.”

Winer said a Black woman living in Washington D.C. is twice as likely to die of breast cancer compared to a white woman, even though the incidence rates are lower in Black women than in white women.

The reason? Delays in screening, poor access to care, “coming to providers who don’t look like you and don’t feel like somebody you can talk to, not having the resources to afford the taxi to go to the clinic,” Winer listed key barriers.

The Yale Cancer Center is also retraining physicians to be more culturally sensitive, and is in the process of raising funds to provide for transportation and child care to cancer patients in need.

Citing a study, Winer said 2.7% of all oncologists in the United States were Black and 4.8% were Latinx. “That’s very different from what we see in our society,” he said. “We can’t overnight change that. But what we can do is try to help people who look different from some of our patients, learn a little bit more about what makes people more and less comfortable.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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