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As the nation prepares to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Olympus offers a reminder that the healthcare community must continue to identify health disparities facing so many in our communities today and must work toward solving the issues that create such disparities.

The African American community, for instance, is at a higher risk for several types of cancer as compared to other groups, highlighting the importance of improved access to screenings and treatment.

“The risk of colon cancer amounts to 20% more in the African American community than the general population. There is still a need for better education and better access to CRC screening and treatment until medical disparities are a thing of the past,” said Max Gill, Global Head of Global Health Economics, Olympus.

Olympus Corporation of the Americas (OCA), as a global medtech leader, leads efforts to help diagnose and treat colorectal cancer, which is a disease that results in a disproportionate number of deaths among African American patients each year. As many diseases feature a genetic component, Olympus stresses the importance of learning about family medical history since early detection is key to prevention and treatment.

Colorectal cancer, for instance, is one of the most preventable cancers through screening, and African Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer more often than any other group in the United States, according to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. In fact, African Americans are disproportionately burdened with not only colon cancer, but also other types of cancers where the same need for screening applies.

  • In 2021, the American Cancer Society estimated there were 149,500 new cases of colorectal cancer and an estimated 52,980 deaths. Between 2013-2017, African Americans accounted for nearly 45 instances of colorectal cancer per 100,000 cases and nearly 19 deaths per 100,000, which is more than any other group.
  • Between 2013-2017, African American men accounted for nearly 172 cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 cases and about 38 deaths per 100,000 cases, more than double any other group.
  • Between 2013-2017, the death rate from breast cancer among African American women was 28 per 100,000 cases compared to 20 per 100,000 cases among Caucasian women2 despite Caucasian women accounting for nearly 132 cases of breast cancer per 100,000 compared to 127 cases among African American women per 100,000.
  • Despite declining mortality rates for cervical cancer, African American women are still 80% more likely to die from this form of cancer when compared to Caucasian women.

Racial health disparity is not a new problem. In March 1966, Dr. King spoke at the annual meeting of the Medical Committee for Human Rights and joined the group in calling upon doctors and hospitals to comply with the Civil Rights Act. His words remain just as pertinent today.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death,” Dr. King said. “I see no alternative to direct action and creative nonviolence to raise the conscience of the nation.”

Olympus agrees with these words from more than a half century ago and has made recent efforts to increase its involvement in finding solutions. Examples include:

  • Olympus supports the non-profit organization MedTech Color to advance the representation of persons of color in the medtech industry.
  • Olympus last year announced its support for revised guidelines that make preventative screenings for lung and colorectal cancer available to more people and support efforts to raise awareness for colorectal cancer screenings.
  • Through a partnership with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, Olympus is helping to forge new inroads for African American and underserved communities by breaking down the barriers that exist for colon cancer screening and education.