In This Section

AACR Releases Its Inaugural Cancer Disparities Report

First-of-its-kind publication provides comprehensive overview of latest research and calls for health equity for all

PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) today released its inaugural Cancer Disparities Progress Report raising awareness of the enormous toll that cancer exacts on racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations. The report also highlights areas of progress in reducing cancer health disparities and specific recommendations for achieving health equity, a basic human right for all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or the communities in which they live.


Research is driving tremendous progress against cancer, but the grim reality is that this progress has not benefited everyone equally. Racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations are among the groups in the United States that have long experienced cancer health disparities. According to the AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020: Achieving the Bold Vision of Health Equity for Racial and Ethnic Minorities and Other Underserved Populations:

  • African Americans have had the highest overall cancer death rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States for more than four decades.
  • Hispanics have the lowest colorectal cancer screening rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives have the lowest breast cancer screening rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.
  • Complex and interrelated factors contribute to cancer health disparities in the United States. Adverse differences in many, if not all, of these factors are directly influenced by structural and systemic racism.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented in clinical trials, and understanding of how cancer develops in racial and ethnic minorities is significantly lacking.
  • Many of the U.S. population groups that experience cancer health disparities, in particular, racial and ethnic minorities, are also experiencing disparities related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Many of the factors driving COVID-19 disparities overlap with the factors that contribute to cancer health disparities.
  • Experts predict that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate existing cancer health disparities as a result of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations.

“This inaugural and historic progress report will provide the world with a comprehensive baseline understanding of our progress toward recognizing and eliminating cancer health disparities from the standpoint of biological factors, clinical management, population science, public policy, and workforce diversity,” said John D. Carpten, PhD, chair of both the AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020 Steering Committee and the AACR Minorities in Cancer Research Council. “This monumental report represents the collective effort of a number of the world’s foremost thought leaders in cancer health disparities research. It highlights progress but it also initiates a vitally important call to action for all stakeholders to make advances toward the mitigation of cancer disparities for racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations.” Carpten is also professor and chair of Translational Genomics and director of the Institute of Translational Genomics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles.


In recent years, some strides have been made in reducing cancer health disparities, including the following:

  • Differences in the overall cancer death rate among racial and ethnic groups are less pronounced now than they have ever been. In 1990, the overall cancer death rate for African Americans was 33 percent higher than the overall cancer death rate for whites. By 2016, it was 14 percent higher.
  • Recent studies have shown that racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes for some types of cancer could be eliminated if all patients have equal access to standard treatment.
  • Tailored outreach and patient navigation can help reduce disparities across the spectrum of cancer care.
  • Several studies and initiatives designed to address gaps in our knowledge about cancer biology in diverse populations are underway, including AACR Project Genomics Evidence Neoplasia Information Exchange (GENIE) and the National Cancer Institute-funded African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) Consortium.
  • Over the past two decades, diversity-focused training and career development programs have enhanced racial and ethnic diversity in cancer training.

However, unfortunately, progress has been slow, and the cost of all health disparities, including COVID-19 and cancer health disparities in terms of premature deaths, lost productivity, and the impact on communities of color remains monumental and must be addressed. The AACR is committed to working with all stakeholders to overcome cancer health disparities. Therefore, the report ends with a call to action to policymakers and all stakeholders to eradicate the social injustices that are barriers to health equity and specifically to:

  • Provide robust, sustained, and predictable funding increases for the federal agencies and programs that are tasked with reducing cancer health disparities.
  • Implement steps to ensure that clinical trials include a diverse population of participants.
  • Support programs to make sure that the health care workforce reflects and appreciates the diverse communities it serves.
  • Prioritize cancer control initiatives.
  • Work with members of the Congressional Tri-Caucus—comprised of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus—to pass the provisions included in the Health Equity and Accountability Act.

“Health disparities in general, and cancer health disparities in particular, are an enormous public health challenge,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “While the pandemic has highlighted and sadly exacerbated many of these issues, confronting and addressing health inequities has been a high priority for the AACR for decades. We are immensely grateful to Dr. Carpten and the expert members of the Steering Committee for their hard work on this groundbreaking report, and are hopeful that it will serve as a valuable resource for policymakers, researchers, and advocates who are deeply committed to eradicating cancer health disparities.”