Equity in Care   

Addressing Inequities in Colorectal Cancer Screening and Care at Hackensack University Medical Center

Hackensack University Medical Center aims to understand inequities and provide enhanced community outreach and access

Equity in Care

According to the American Cancer Society, African Americans have the highest rates of colorectal cancer incidence and mortality among any racial group in the U.S. Researchers believe this disparity could be tied to reduced health care access and increased risk factors.

“We know that certain populations have reduced access to colorectal screening and care, including African Americans and Latino Americans, as well as people who live in lower-income or rural areas,” said Steven Lee-Kong, M.D., Chief of Colorectal Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center. “This reduced access ties in with populations who are at an increased statistical risk of developing colorectal cancer.”

Factors such as a lack of transportation, food insecurity, unemployment, lack of health insurance, and housing instability can reduce the likelihood that an individual will receive colorectal cancer screening and care—as well as other important health screenings—which can lead to poor health outcomes.

According to Dr. Lee-Kong, health inequities can be compounded by a reluctance to seek health care due to racial, language or cultural barriers.

“For people who are hesitant to engage with the health care system, seeing a clinician who looks like them, speaks their language, and understands their cultural beliefs can help them feel much more comfortable,” said Dr. Lee-Kong. “In some cultures, there is a stigma around discussing health history or symptoms, so some people may not be aware that they have a family history and brush off concerning symptoms.”

To combat inequities in colorectal cancer care, Hackensack University Medical Center is committed to following diversity, equity, and inclusion best practices across the health network, including in employment and patient care.

Through its diverse network of primary care, gastroenterology and colorectal surgery providers, Hackensack Meridian Health is working to raise awareness among patients about the importance of colorectal cancer screening and reduce the stigma around discussing colorectal cancer symptoms with a physician.

At a recent Men’s Health Fair held in Hackensack in October 2022, more than 100 men received free prostate cancer and other health screenings. Participants also received a free at-home colorectal cancer screening test, updates on colorectal cancer screening guidelines and information on how to schedule appointments.

The event featured remarks from former NFL great Harry Carson, who encouraged men—especially African American men—to be proactive about their health. Men’s Health Day was sponsored by the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (Hackensack Meridian Health’s world-renowned Research Center), the Hackensack University Medical Center’s Department of Urology and the Hackensack Meridian Health Community Outreach Division.

Learn more about colorectal surgery innovations at Hackensack University Medical Center.

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