Leading Cancer Groups Chart the Future of Disparities Research

an African American woman, African American man and Hispanic woman smile for camera

Four leading national cancer organizations have released a joint statement outlining a strategy to help all cancer patients benefit from cancer research, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or where they live. The American Cancer Society, the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the National Cancer Institute developed the strategy during a summit that included cancer research experts, health policy experts, and patient advocates.

The statement acknowledges the way different populations in the US are affected by cancer. Studies in the early 1970s began pointing out that black Americans had higher rates of death from certain cancers than white Americans. Over the decades, research showed differences in outcomes for other racial and ethnic groups. Research also looked at differences in access to care, the quality of care, the likelihood of getting cancer, and other health outcomes beyond death rates.

The studies show that members of racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as people with low socioeconomic status, have worse cancer outcomes for a variety of reasons. These include access to health care, lifestyle factors, and genetic differences. According to the statement, the more these factors can be studied and understood, the more effectively they can be addressed.

Ultimately, disparities mean people die when they don't need to die.

“We’re hoping we can focus oncology care and the oncology workforce such that it provides better care to all Americans. I’ve spent much of my professional career studying disparities by race, socioeconomic status, even by the state in which people live. Ultimately, disparities mean people die when they don’t need to die. This is an attempt to make society in general and especially medical society focus on that fact,” said Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

The joint statement was published July 24, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical OncologyCancer ResearchCA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and on the National Cancer Institute website. It identifies top priorities in cancer health disparities research and makes recommendations for the future.

Key recommendations

  • Researchers should collect information about race, ethnicity, ancestry, immigration status, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, social status, demographics, and lifestyle factors for all research in all settings. The information should be self-reported by the patients, and not based on observation by the researcher.
  • Fund more research studies that focus on minority populations and ensure that members of minority populations are included in major research initiatives, including The Cancer Genome Atlas and the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
  • Include more samples from underserved populations in tumor tissue banks and other repositories that collect cancer specimens for research.
  • Expand mentoring efforts and other efforts aimed at improving workforce diversity in research and oncology fields.
  • Involve communities in research at the planning stages to promote deeper understanding of community needs, to engage community stakeholders in the goals of the research, and to increase minority participation in clinical trials.

“Each of our organizations has a unique set of views, skills, and resources,” said Brawley. “Our hope is that by speaking as one, we can bring a strong, unified approach and together strengthen all of our efforts in addressing one of the most pressing issues in cancer medicine today.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Charting the Future of Cancer Health Disparities Research: A Position Statement From the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the National Cancer Institute. Published July 24, 2017 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. First author Blasé N. Polite, MD, MPP, University of Chicago.

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