Maryland professor urges antiracism principles in cancer research

Maryland professor urges antiracism principles in cancer research

A Maryland professor made the argument that not enough antiracism principles are being incorporated into cancer research — and that the effects could weigh heavily on patients.

Dr. Christabel Cheung, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, argued last month that racism in the medical field — even subtle, microaggressions — can negatively impact a patient’s health and recovery.

Cheung offered several recommendations to better include patients who identify as black, Indigenous, or people of color in research programs as part of a symposium hosted by the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

“Achieving Health Equity in Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Psycho-Oncology Care” weighed a number of biases that could impact disparities in patient care, including gender and mental illness.

“We want to offer you best practices in how to better engage with BIPOC AYA cancer patients so that we can improve the knowledge, center patient wisdom and prevent unnecessary suffering that is happening right now,” she said.

“It’s very important for us to be mindful of the socio-political context that we’re in right now.”

The National Cancer Institute defines AYA oncology as cancer care or research that’s aimed toward cancer patients between the ages of 15 to 39 years old. 

Dr. Christabel Cheung
Dr. Christabel Cheung offered best practices in better engaging with BIPOC AYA cancer patients.
University of Maryland

Cheung kicked off her presentation by defining antiracism through the framework of Ibram X. Kendi, the architect of antiracist ideology.

“There is no such thing as not being racist,” she said. “The heartbeat of racism domestically in the United States has been denial of racism, and the sound of that heartbeat has been the argument, ‘I’m not a racist.’”

Cheung — who identifies as BICOP and is a two-time survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her AYA years — said that she herself has experienced the subtleties of racism that patients experience in the medical system.

After studying 32 BIPOC AYA cancer patients — and asking them to share experiences when transparency, honesty and trust were violated — Cheung and her team of researchers made several recommendations that professionals can take “in terms of advancing anti-racist approaches.”

Engaging with those most impacted by the research, providing in-depth details about what the research would entail, compensating patients who participate in the study and avoiding “persistent tokenism” were among Cheung’s suggestions.

“Being a BIPOC AYA advocate myself … I was the Asian girl with a service dog,” Cheung said about her time as a research cohort patient.

Healthcare, support and doctor consulting with patient in hospital after cancer diagnosis, kind and caring.
Cheung’s team studied 32 BIPOC AYA cancer patients and the ways they felt their trust as a patient was violated.
Getty Images

“We knew who the black female cisgender individual was, we knew who the black male, gay AYA representative was. We became tokenized in those roles and it was unfair to us and unfair to the entire population because we cannot possibly represent the range of issues that all marginalized and minoritized AYAs face.”

Cheung did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.

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