It’s Time To Address Cancer Health Disparities

Dr. Margaret Foti

World Cancer Day, taking place on February 4, aims to "get as many people as possible around the globe to talk about cancer." This year, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) hopes that, in addition to talking about cancer broadly, people around the world will also discuss the disproportionate impact that cancer has on disadvantaged and minority groups. We must continue to talk about the problem of cancer health disparities and address this pressing issue comprehensively and with passion and commitment. 

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), cancer health disparities are “adverse differences in cancer incidence (new cases), cancer prevalence (all existing cases), cancer death (mortality), cancer survivorship, and burden of cancer or related health conditions that exist among specific population groups.” From issues affecting access to and use of health care, to clinical trial participation, cultural beliefs and genetics, many complex and interrelated factors contribute to disparities in cancer health outcomes both in the United States and around the world. Other factors contributing to these disparities include age, disability, education, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, income and race.

While the global cancer research community has been making unprecedented strides toward finding cures for various types of cancer and improving and extending the lives of cancer patients everywhere, we still face a long road ahead when it comes to addressing the disproportionate impact that cancer has on disadvantaged and minority groups. Today, black men still face double the rate of death from prostate cancer than men of any other racial or ethnic group, while Hispanic children remain 24% more likely to develop leukemia than non-Hispanic children. Poor women with early-stage ovarian cancer are still 50 percent less likely to receive recommended care than women of higher socioeconomic status. These are just a few of the disparities that we highlighted in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2017, but many more exist.

The AACR has made addressing cancer health disparities one of its top priorities, and this important area has been a focus of AACR President Michael A. Caligiuri, M.D., during his term in office. The AACR Annual Meeting 2018 in April will feature exciting new sessions on cancer health disparities, thanks to Dr. Caligiuri’s Presidential initiative. This year also marks the 11th time that the AACR will be organizing the AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved. Over the next few months, we will continue to increase our commitment to addressing this critical issue, with several groundbreaking disparities-related initiatives in the works.

For over 110 years, the AACR has been and continues to be committed to preventing and curing all cancers.  This work is carried out by fostering research, education, communication, collaboration, advocacy and funding for the top cancer science and medicine in the world. On World Cancer Day, we are calling for a global commitment to putting an end to cancer health disparities, wherever they may exist. Our 40,000 members across 120 countries, among them being researchers, physician-scientists, other health care professionals, cancer prevention specialists, and patient advocates, stand ready to deliver on that commitment. 

Dr. Margaret Foti is Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for Cancer Research.

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