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Wright Center’s health equity series kicks off with lung disease disparities

Public invited to attend quarterly conversations.

illustration of lungs

By Jackie Kruszewski

This year, COVID-19 has disproportionately attacked the lungs of Black and Latino people. But inequities in lung health are nothing new to researchers, patients and health care providers in minority communities. 

Those lung health disparities were front and center earlier this month for “Black Lives, Black Lungs,” a virtual event hosted by the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research. The first in a quarterly series addressing pressing concerns in health equity, the event featured experts from Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health and the Virginia community.

During the discussion, Dr. Patrick Nana-Sinkam, chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine at VCU Health, pointed out that:

  • Black people have the highest rates, deaths and hospitalizations for asthma.
  • There are large disparities along racial and gender lines in the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • At-risk Black people are less likely to be screened early for lung cancer
  • Black men with lung cancer are likely to die sooner than white patients.

Virginia still has work to do to increase screening rates among eligible patients, Nana-Sinkam noted. Only 5% of all people at risk for lung cancer had screenings — a number Nana-Sinkam called “appalling.” As a non-invasive procedure, covered by insurance, he urged doctors to do more to increase the number of people screened for lung disease.

“To determine screening eligibility, we need to look beyond people’s age and how much they smoke,” he said. Societal, environmental and biological factors all contribute to the need for earlier screenings for lung diseases, especially within the Black community.

Nana-Sinkam and VCU Massey Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Winn urged health care institutions to partner with their communities to better understand the complexities of health disparities in lung disease screening, diagnosis and treatment. They encouraged health professionals to go out into the community to reach people, to engage in topics such as environmental quality and access to health care, and to enroll more members of underrepresented populations in clinical trials.

The Wright Center event closed with a community discussion on opportunities for collaboration and next steps.

Sign up for next event

The next Health Equity event will be February 9, 2021. The subject will be prostate and colorectal cancers. Learn more and register online.