While cancer care disparity is a complex issue, Dr. Donald Fleming's research reveals that all cancer treatment centers use the same medications and treatment regimens throughout the country.
"Patients, especially those in disparate population, are often unaware that regulatory agencies such as the Commission on Cancer Certification by the American College of Surgeons evaluate a cancer center to determine if it, indeed, is meeting standards of care equivalent to others throughout the country," he said. "The concern arises with disparate patients who believe they are not receiving the best care locally and opt to stop therapy."
Fleming, a medical oncologist and hematologist, serves as the director of oncology at Davis Memorial Hospital's Cancer Care Center in Elkins. The Cancer Care Center received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons in 2010 and was the only newly accredited program in the State of West Virginia to achieve such recognition.
In a recent article published in the Oct. 4 Oncology Nurse Advisor, Fleming examines the issue of quality of care along with the varying degrees to which socioeconomic, culture and financial aspects have on the outcomes for patients with cancer.
"Socioeconomic factors are the most universal contributors to cancer care disparity," he said. "This includes a patient's or guardian's education level, whether or not a patient has health insurance and access to health care."
Other factors that play a significant role in cancer care outcome in disparate populations include participation in healthy lifestyle practices and early screenings.
"Among many disparate populations, patients undergo colonoscopy after symptoms of the cancer develop more often than for screening," he said.
The bottom line, according to Flemings' research, is the need for more patient education. All levels of cancer care can be influenced by this factor.
"Patient education focused on primary preventive measures such as healthy lifestyle habits and undergoing cancer screenings is an invaluable tool for reducing cancer outcome disparities," he said. "Disparate populations tend to have a higher level of obesity, greater incidence of smoking, and excessive use of alcohol, which likely leads to a higher incidence of cancer in these groups."
Fleming concluded on a positive note that there are some encouraging trends emerging in the United States among the population groups.
"Pharmaceutical companies are developing programs to help less fortunate patients to ensure they can obtain the most advanced yet expensive medications," he said.
The National Cancer Institute defines "cancer health disparities" as adverse differences in cancer incidence (new cases), cancer prevalence (all existing cases), cancer death (mortality), cancer survivorship, and burden of cancer or related health conditions that exists among specific population groups in the United States.
For more information about the Cancer Care Center or to contact Fleming at Davis Memorial Hospital's cancer program, call 304-637-3640.
The complete article titled "Understanding the impact of disparities on cancer care" is available at www.oncologynurseadvisor.com. CE credit is offered after reading the article.