Dr. Lovoria Williams (center)

The equity gap in cancer care is costing lives. Here’s what’s being done about it.

Despite remarkable advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, some people have difficulty accessing quality health care due to structural barriers, socioeconomic factors, race and ethnicity, and geographic location.

And, sadly, these inequities cost lives.

We talked to Dr. Lovoria Williams, the associate director of cancer health equity at the UK Markey Cancer Center, about health inequities and what Markey is doing to address them.

Describe your position at Markey

Among other roles – including associate professor in the UK College of Nursing and associate director of the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science, I’m the associate director of cancer health equity at Markey, which means I lead strategic initiatives to advance health equity.  

This position is part of the Markey Community Impact Office. A major initiative of this office will be the organization and expansion of Markey’s research and outreach portfolio that is focused on reducing health disparities based on race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and other factors.

What cancer-related disparities exist in Kentucky? What can these be attributed to?

The following cancers have higher incidence (new cases) among African Americans:

  • Cervical
  • Colon
  • Liver
  • Pancreatic
  • Prostate

And these cancers have higher mortality (deaths) among African Americans:

  • Breast
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Lung
  • Myeloma
  • Prostate

Additionally, cervical cancer has higher incidence among Latinas. 

The cause of health inequities is complex and due to many factors. Unfortunately, a major explanation of health inequity is based on social factors. In fact, some sources suggest that up to 80 percent of our health is attributed to social determinants, such as lack of access to care, neighborhood make-up, social economic status, education status and inability to miss work to undergo cancer screenings. Most social determinants are due to long-standing social injustice and structural barriers.

What are the consequences of these health inequities?

Health inequities can lead to higher cancer morbidity (cancer-related sickness) and mortality, as well as decreased quality of life and financial toxicity, to name a few.

How is Markey addressing inequities in cancer care?

Outreach is key to informing the community of the services available at Markey and to build community trust. We recently hired a community health worker specifically for outreach to the African American population, and we plan to hire a community health worker for outreach to the Hispanic community. We are also challenging our clinicians and staff to explore their implicit bias and to develop cultural humility.

Additionally, we closely examine data to look for disparities and then develop strategies to address them.

What resources can patients take advantage of?

We have care navigators and one of our greatest resources is the office of social workers who assist patients with financial resources, such as gas cards, assistance with hotel stays, etc.

You can reach a social worker when coming to see your provider or during a treatment. They can be contacted via phone at 859-323-2798 or email at mccsocialworker@uky.edu.

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Markey Cancer Center
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