Tarrant County encompasses the metropolitan area of Fort Worth and has a population of almost 2 million people. Almost 30% of these people identify as Hispanic or Latino/a. The women in these communities are dying from cervical cancer at almost double the rate of white women who reside in their county, neighboring counties or even other metropolitan counties across the state. 

A recent study funded by the American Cancer Society evaluated the current state of cervical cancer and mortality specifically for Latina women in Tarrant County compared to other large counties in the state. The findings shed further light on an issue that has been unaddressed for many years. 

The cervical cancer mortality rate for Hispanic women in Tarrant County is 5.2 per 100,000, compared to 3.7 for their counterparts in Dallas County. The cervical cancer mortality rate is also significantly lower for non-Hispanic white women in Tarrant and Dallas counties, at 2.6 and 3 respectively. The numbers quantify the disparities and the outcomes, but the information also focuses on the “why” by describing key barriers to access and care for these communities and the women that make these communities what they are. 

“These women are caregivers … so if they don’t have someone to watch their kids or take care of other matters, they won’t go [to the doctor],” said Carlene King, a community health worker at Cancer Care Services in Fort Worth and a cancer survivor herself. “And if they do get sick, then what? Who’s going to take care of their family?” 

King emphasizes many of the cultural and societal barriers to care that exist for women, but even if these are overcome, the ability to connect to the health care system in a meaningful and impactful way remains challenging. Transportation, child care, immigration status, cancer treatment inequity and trust are just some of the many themes within a complex web of obstacles that women face when attempting to receive both preventive care and treatment. 

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These barriers have only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. As we begin to live in a world where there is a pandemic within a larger pandemic, the impacts of multiple layers and levels of disparities will create larger gaps in care. Women, especially women of color, not only deal with the challenges of breast and cervical cancer, but they also struggle with higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions. 

Many of these diagnoses and medical conditions are all so interwoven and can have huge impacts on life-limiting illnesses like cancer. James Earl, director of outreach and health equity from Cancer Care Services, warns of a “cancer tsunami” that is awaiting all of us as we start to feel the aftereffects and shocks of the COVID-19 “earthquake.” This COVID-19 effect will further derail and disrupt the already fragmented systems of care that exist in our communities and will only further extend the disenfranchisement. 

Awareness is one of the first important steps to cultivate change and create more equitable systems for our community and specifically communities of color. As Robert Earley, president and CEO of JPS Health Network, retires this January, questions will arise around how the community and health care system reorganize and strategize to care for their own. There must be a sense of shared accountability and responsibility among state, county and city officials and their constituencies to make the biggest and most sustainable impact on addressing health inequities.

To that end, Cancer Care Services with the support of The University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas Health Science Center, invites you to attend an informational session with subject matter experts to learn more about cancer care disparities that exist, notably for marginalized populations within our community.

Please save the date for our community roundtable on March 3, 2022. Sign up here for further updates on this event.

Save the date for our community roundtable re: cancer care disparities on March 3, 2022

Sign up here for further updates on this event.

Dr. Hemali Patel is pursuing her master’s in public health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. She is also a practicing internist and physician. This piece was created in collaboration with Cancer Care Services.

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Hemali Patel

Dr. Hemali Patel is pursuing her master’s in public health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. She is also a practicing internist and physician.

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