Overcoming Cancer Health Disparities to Make Progress for All

Cancer research has led to great progress in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment, improving and saving countless lives. These advances, however, have not benefited everyone equally. In the United States, some groups—particularly racial and ethnic minorities—experience higher rates of some types of cancer and have poorer treatment outcomes than the general population.

For example, as outlined in the AACR Cancer Progress Report 2014, African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer than men of any other race or ethnicity, and are more than twice as likely to die from it. African-American men and women are both more likely to develop colorectal cancer and more likely to die from it than their white counterparts. Asian and Hispanic Americans are about twice as likely to develop and die from liver cancer as their white counterparts. The list goes on.

In short, cancer health disparities are a major public health problem, one that cancer researchers, health care providers, and survivor and patient advocates across the country are working hard to reduce. Hundreds of these professionals will convene in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 9–12 for the 7th AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved to share findings, ideas, and information that will advance understanding about these disparities. Importantly, the conference draws a wide variety of attendees and presenters from across the field, and features sessions on topics ranging from cancer genomics to screening programs to patient navigation. Because the causes of cancer health disparities are complex and connected, addressing the issue effectively requires a multidisciplinary approach.

Among the myriad causes of these disparities are differences in access to and use of cancer-screening programs. Communities across the country are taking steps to close this gap. A recent Cancer Today article featured programs designed to increase cancer screening and reduce cancer deaths among Native Americans, the only racial or ethnic group in the United States to experience an increase in cancer mortality between 1990 and 2009, according to a series of articles published in the American Journal of Public Health last June.

Government can play an important role as well: In 2003, Delaware initiated a statewide cancer control initiative that has eliminated colorectal cancer disparities for African-Americans through increased screening. This initiative also raised awareness about the importance of colorectal cancer screening among other minority populations, including the Hispanic population, as discussed by Eleuterio Peguero Rosa.

We’re making progress, but there is still much to be learned and done. Stay tuned to Cancer Research Catalyst for more on this topic, including news from next month’s Cancer Health Disparities conference.

Cover photo: Joy Rivera, left, a community health educator and patient navigator for the Minnesota-based American Indian Cancer Foundation, spoke with Lillian Stand, middle, and Angeline Clark (both Red Lake Band of Ojibwe) during a visit to their apartment community in Minneapolis. Clark died in 2012. Photo by David Perdue.