Published September 1, 2019
Nearly 110,000 New Yorkers are diagnosed with cancer each year – with about 35,000 annual deaths attributed to the disease, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the state. The cancer incidence rate in New York is the fourth highest in the nation.
The New York State Cancer Consortium (NYSCC), an interprofessional network of over 200 volunteer individuals and organizations, seeks to strategically address the state’s cancer burden. Their vision is to implement a cancer control plan “while respecting and embracing the cultural, demographic and geographic diversity within New York State.”
Cancer’s prevalence is not evenly distributed, nor are survival rates, which vary with race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. According to NYSCC, the complex relationship of policy, experiences and norms, coupled with economics, insurance, language and geographic location, contribute to inequity, as these factors may affect access to prevention and treatment services.
In New York – a racially and ethnically diverse, highly populated and geographically large state with a range of rural to dense metropolitan areas – cancer prevention and control efforts are complex. Consequently, cancer-related health equity has become a high priority in the 2018- 2023 Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan, the third of its kind.
Darryl Somayaji, PhD, RN, CNS, CCRC, a UB SON assistant professor and cancer researcher, has volunteered with NYSCC for 10 years and is currently a steering committee member.
“When I first joined the group, it was mentioned that health equity would be incorporated into other priority areas,” says Somayaji. “We realized, as work began on the 2018-2023 plan, past plans did not emphasize enough the importance of cancer-related health equity. It was a goal of past plans but not listed as a priority. Therefore, it became the first priority listed in the 2018-2023 plan.”
Before this addition, the plan included six priorities: health promotion and cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, survivorship, palliative care, and health care workforce.
According to NYSDOH, Snapshot of Cancer in New York, 2018.
1.6 million people report poor mental health in NYS.
2.9 million people have income below poverty level in NYS.
8% of New Yorkers (aged 19-64) do not have health insurance.
26% (aged 21-64) use Medicaid as primary coverage.
65.3% of New Yorkers age 25+ do not have a bachelor's degree.
14.1% do not have a high school diploma.
30.4% of New Yorkers speak a language other than English.
NYSCC developed the plan with input from hundreds of organizations and individuals, including the NYS Department of Health, NYS Cancer Registry and American Cancer Society. It includes goals, measurable objectives and strategies that focus on identified priority areas, along with tracking indicators to assess the current population’s health status and to monitor how the priority objectives are being met.
To monitor progress, NYSCC developed an interactive dashboard with state-level tracking indicator data. The dashboard displays each priority area’s cancer indicators, baseline data, objectives and status. The 2012-2017 dashboard currently includes data for two priority areas: health promotion and cancer prevention and early detection. Additional tracking indicators will be added in the future.
Targeting cancer-related health equity enables the NYSCC to realize their vision by pushing to the forefront those factors that disproportionately affect certain populations – this priority is also innately intertwined with the other six.
And, Somayaji says, bringing awareness to the project adds accountability and increases the potential of the NYSCC with the addition of new members.
“The workforce aspect is important because we need experts from diverse fields to address the cancer burden,” she explains. “My dream is that part of the consortium will be a contingent of college students so we can really get that message to other students and peers.”