AUSTIN, Texas - A Black gynecological oncologist is working to address disparities for Black and Hispanic women who make up the bulk of HPV associated cervical cancer cases.
The CDC reports 12,000 new cases are diagnosed every year in the United States.
"I'm a gynecological oncologist and I specialize in cancer of the female reproductive tract," Dr. Yvette Williams-Brown, Gynecologic Oncologist, UT Health Austin and Livestrong Cancer Institutes says.
Dr. Williams-Brown helps women navigate cancer, even in this pandemic.
"I think it's important for women to continue to keep up with their regular cancer screenings, I know with the pandemic, many people have been afraid to go in to see their doctor or healthcare professionals and they certainly don't want to lose sight of cancer screenings are important," Dr. Williams-Brown said.
The American Cancer Society says there's been a substantial decline in cancer screenings due to the pandemic, it's something Dr. Williams-Brown says is even more concerning for women of color.
"For gynecological cancers in general, pretty much every single cancer that we look at, although Black or Brown women may not have the highest numbers, when we look at outcomes and with the death rates, we can see that many times that women of color tend to have the worst outcomes," Dr. Williams-Brown says.
It’s those numbers that play a part in Dr. Williams-Brown's passion for the medical field.
"Having people who look like you, and people who have some of the same background you have, is important for others to feel as if they can trust their healthcare team," Dr. Williams-Brown says. "They feel as if they have the best interest at heart and that means a lot and we've seen that in multiple ways and multiple studies, that patients feel more comfortable and more likely to seek healthcare if they feel as if their healthcare team actually understands and cares about them."
Numbers from the American Society of Clinical Oncology show 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black or African American and only 2.3 percent of conologists self-identified as such.
"I grew up in a very rural part of Alabama and so there were not a lot of role models or people who look like me in terms of being able to achieve becoming a physician," Dr. Williams-Brown remembers.
Something that could be discouraging for some, but not for Dr. Williams-Brown.
"I'm very fortunate the fact that I had a lot of encouragement, extended family and so forth that really never said that I couldn't do something," the physician says.
Her father, who served in the military and her mother, a trained seamstress, always encouraged their young daughters to dream big.
"That was not a deterrent for me, it was a motivator in a lot of ways, mostly because I don't want my children or the next generation to feel as if it's not something they could change because they haven't seen it," Dr. Williams-Brown says, thinking about her two young twin boys.
She says it’s her sons that keep her going and fighting for change.
"Sometimes people think that [health disparities] are just because of biology and there's many studies now, that really shows that it's not just because someone has a certain ethnicity or race they have a bad outcome," Dr. Williams-Brown says. "It is very much tied to how they're treated whether or not they're diagnosed in proper fashion or an early fashion or if they're being treated in the proper way, so we certainly need that representation of people from different kinds of backgrounds so we can continue to provide care that's equitable in all aspects of life."
Dr. Williams-Brown says common symptoms to look out for are:
- Abnormal pains
- Abnormal bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding after intercourse
In addition to her oncology work, Dr. Williams-Brown also mentors medical students and undergraduate students interested in the medical field.
She serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Women’s Health, Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin and Dr. Williams-Brown is also a medical provider at Ascension Seton.