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Donation aimed at fighting cancer care disparities in Tampa Bay

The American Cancer Society and the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee will help increase access to lifesaving screenings.
The Johnnie Ruth Clarke Center in St. Petersburg is one of the Community Health Centers of Pinellas health care locations. A recent donation to the organization will result in more cancer screenings to underserved patients.
The Johnnie Ruth Clarke Center in St. Petersburg is one of the Community Health Centers of Pinellas health care locations. A recent donation to the organization will result in more cancer screenings to underserved patients. [ Courtesy of the American Cancer Society ]
Published Jan. 18

A local health organization will step up efforts to offer families better access to cancer screenings and preventive care, with help from the American Cancer Society and the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee.

“Proper screening and early detection are crucial to cancer treatment, but access to necessary services is often more difficult for underserved communities,” said Claire Lessinger, the committee’s chief operating officer. “We hope to help eliminate barriers to cancer prevention and treatment for Tampa Bay families, and help support those impacted in their fight against this disease.”

The partnership is looking to close gaps in health care that have endured for decades. An announcement by the groups last week, just days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, recalled a quote from the civil rights leader, who once referred to health care disparities as “the most shocking and inhumane” of all forms of inequality.

The new initiative will provide the Community Health Centers of Pinellas $30,000 to increase the number of cancer screenings they are able to complete amid the pandemic. It expands funding previously given to the organization — along with Tampa Family Health Center — as part of the NFL’s Crucial Catch program. Crucial Catch has raised more than $22 million since 2009, and since 2012 has shifted its focus to health equity.

It’s also part of a larger commitment by the Forever 55 legacy program unveiled last fall, which provides $2 million in funding for community projects related to its six pillars — early childhood education, food insecurity, families, sustainability, health and wellness, and systemic justice, according to the Super Bowl LV website.

In addition, the Super Bowl host committee donated $120,000 to the American Cancer Society’s Tampa Hope Lodge program, allowing it to restart their service providing homes to cancer patients and their caregivers in 2021, following the pandemic.

Across the United States, cancer disparities are persistent and fueled in part by barriers to quality health care. Those barriers include access to well-paying jobs, quality insurance plans, affordable housing, healthy food and reliable transportation.

Death rates among Black women with breast cancer are 40 percent higher than for white women, even though the two groups are diagnosed at similar rates. For Black women in their 50s, the death rate is nearly double, according to the American Cancer Society.

Related: Black women with breast cancer face far greater risks. ‘Listen to your body.’

Among Black men, prostate cancer death rates are more than double those of every other racial/ethnic group, and African Americans have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S., with the number of patients under 50 rising.

Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, accounting for over 20 percent of fatalities in that group. And death rates among people who live in the most impoverished areas are about 20 percent higher than those in the most affluent areas, according to the cancer society.

Related: Chadwick Boseman’s death brings a reminder: Black colon cancer risk is high

Lack of access to screenings and other early prevention measures often drive the disproportionate cancer rates. Adding to that, “COVID-19 had an alarming impact on cancer screening rates and was responsible for a 90 percent drop in certain cancer screenings,” said Sheri Barros, the American Cancer Society’s strategic director for global sports alliances.

With the additional funding, the Community Health Centers of Pinellas will be able to increase the number of preventive care screenings such as mammograms, colonoscopies and pap smears offered to its patients who are uninsured or under-insured, said Dr. Nichelle Threadgill, the organization’s chief medical officer. They will receive those services “regardless of their ability to pay,” she said.

The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg provides partial funding for Times stories on equity. It does not select story topics and is not involved in the reporting or editing.