Race and Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MARCH 15, 2018

  We have long known about racial disparities in health care. Many studies have found that non-white Americans too often present with later stage disease and too often die sooner. There are some cancers that are more common among certain racial groups, and most of them are among the more aggressive kinds of disease. There has been a lot of conversation about the reasons for this, usually boiling down to less good health care access, less good insurance coverage (clearly related to access), and some lingering suspicion of organized medicine. The memory of the Tuskegee experiments lingers.

  Susan Gubar writes in this column about a new movie, Company Town, that is now available on YouTube. Released first in 2016, it is about a small town in Arkansas where a large Georgia-Pacific plant has dominated the town and apparently poisoned the river for years. It is difficult, if not impossible, to prove a link between environmental contamination and cancer, but this film makes a powerful case. The intersection of science and common sense makes it more powerful . Remember the book and then movie, A Civil Action, about a similar situation in Woburn, MA? A major difference is that Woburn is mostly, or, at least, was at that time, mostly white. Did that make it any easier to get attention and support and funds to fight? You decide.

  Here is the start of her essay and a link. Watch the film, too.

Black Cancer Matters

Like many people, I attribute my cancer to bad luck. So the feature-length documentary “Company Town” shocked me. It contends that the economic consequences of racial discrimination increase cancer risk. Watching the movie led me to realize that wretched statistics on cancer mortalities are also linked to racial inequalities. Black cancer should matter, but has it mattered in the past and will it matter in the future?

“Company Town,” released in 2016 and available March 20 on iTunes, was co-directed by Natalie Kottke-Masocco and Erica Sardarian. It opens with gospel vocalists singing the words “run down to the river,” a deeply ironic injunction in Crossett, Ark., a setting where a Georgia-Pacific paper and chemical plant — owned by the billionaire Koch brothers — stands accused of polluting local waters. The movie depicts rural people dependent for a livelihood on an industry that they believe is sickening them by contaminating their environment. Most of the men and women dealing with cancer in the area are African-Americans.

We see David Bouie, a Baptist minister who worked in the facility for 10 years, pointing out the houses on his lane. “It’s all around us … cancer, cancer,” he says. “Door-to-door cancer.”

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/15/well/live/black-cancer-matters.html