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National African American Cancer Coalition to target cancer rates and mortality

Across various types of cancer, incidence and mortality rates for African Americans are higher than among white men and women. African Americans are twice as likely to develop stomach cancer and more than twice as likely to die from it. The death rates for African American women who have cervical cancer and men who have prostate cancer are more than double those for their white counterparts, according to data from the U.S. Office of Minority Health.

A Quincy-based national nonprofit, the National African American Cancer Coalition, set to launch Jan. 2 will focus on closing those gaps by providing direct support to patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and doing outreach to faith groups and community organizations who can get the word out about cancer screening and prevention.

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The board of directors includes Dr. Christopher Lathan, a thoracic oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute whose interests include racial disparities in lung cancer, as well as nursing and outreach specialists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wayne State University in Detroit, Meharry Medical College in Nashville, and the National Association of Public Hospitals.

Executive Director Natalie Wimberly said part of the group’s goal is to overcome the factors that have left some African Americans disillusioned and distrustful of the medical system and to let people know “that we understand the devastation that cancer can bring to families. We are present and we will be present throughout” patients’ diagnosis and treatment process.

The group will have a staff of patient advocates, including two medical social workers and two oncology nurses, to field calls from patients who want to talk through their diagnosis and are looking for resources and support, Wimberly said.

To start, the coalition is focusing its efforts in four cities and their surrounding communities: Boston; Richmond, Va.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Memphis, Tenn. The organization will be adding to its website in the weeks before the launch. Starting in the new year, people looking for support may call the group’s headquarters at 888-688-0074.

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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