Cancer is everywhere, and it affects everyone.

But as American Cancer Society Arizona points out, it doesn't affect everyone equally. Health disparities can create barriers to health care for some community members, meaning that not everyone has equal access to life-saving options such as cancer screening.

The organizations recent Game Changer Gala, held at The Clayton House in Scottsdale, aimed to chip away at those barriers and increase access to screening. Exact Sciences sponsored a table and sent several employees to the event, a black-tie evening that raised more than $300,000 to fund cancer initiatives that transcend health disparities.

Even if the disease affects people unequally, in the room that night, cancer felt close by.

“The evening opened with someone asking the question, ‘Who in here has been touched by cancer?’” said Trish Jeffries, an Exact Sciences executive assistant in attendance. “And it was the whole room. Everybody knew somebody, was somebody. It was a great leveler. We all have someone. That made a very nice evening very personal and very serious, and meaningful.”

Poignant messages throughout the event underscored the importance of screening. Vanessa Ramirez, honored as Survivor of the Year, spoke of her winding cancer journey, which ended in her being cancer-free. A presenter shared that she had just that week received a cancer diagnosis after being tested. And Dr. Arif Kamal, chief patient officer at American Cancer Society, emphasized and re-emphasized the importance of getting screened.

“Every time he said that, I was excited to hear it,” said Dave Dytrt, warehouse operations manager at Exact Sciences in Phoenix. “That’s what we do. Thats why we’re here. That is us.”

Kevin Parker, vice president, precision oncology business operations at Exact Sciences, serves as a member of CEOs Against Cancer, an affiliate of American Cancer Society Arizona. The business leaders group will direct the money raised at the gala to increase the colorectal cancer screening rate this year in Arizona, Parker said.

Health Disparities and Screening Efforts

A health disparity is “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage,” according to Healthy People 2030, a federal public health improvement initiative. Reducing and removing disparities is a key factor in creating health equity, meaning that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to attain their best possible health.

Circumstances created by health disparities often prevent people from accessing health care, including screenings to detect colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society Arizona reports that most colorectal cancer deaths in Arizona can be attributed to people not getting screened. It intends to use gala funds to increase screening in the state, especially among Arizonans experiencing poverty and those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Expected projects include:

  • Engaging health plans in projects to reach unscreened populations
  • Deploying peer educators to shepherd unscreened residents toward screening
  • Providing grants for community health centers to help them boost screening rates

Boosting screening increases the chances of finding cancers early, when they may be easier to treat.

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