AACR cancer disparities report cites progress, ‘but we still have a long way to go’
American Association for Cancer Research today released its first Cancer Disparities Progress Report, which aims to raise awareness of the substantial effect of cancer on racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations.
The report also highlights areas of progress in reducing cancer health disparities and offers recommendations for achieving health equity in this setting.
“The idea of undertaking this historic initiative of producing the very first progress report on cancer health disparities was conceptualized nearly 2 years ago,” Margaret Foti, PhD, MD, CEO of AACR, said during a virtual congressional briefing. “The AACR leaders, members, scientists and physicians who represent minority populations and the underserved had determined that realizing the vision of health equity would require a comprehensive plan to identify the parameters of this major public health problem, inform and educate policymakers, regulators and the public about the enormous scope of the problem, and outline the effective steps needed to confront the problem head-on.”
The initial plan was to issue the report in March, Foti added.
“[However], those plans were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic — a situation that has further revealed the problem of health disparities in even broader and starker terms as Blacks and other communities of color are much more susceptible and vulnerable to COVID-19,” she said. “The AACR has long recognized the need to address cancer health disparities through its programs and initiatives. Our organization has a dedicated history of proactively working in a number of ways to address the enormous public health challenge of cancer disparities.”
The report highlighted the following advances:
- Overall disparities in cancer mortality rates among racial and ethnic groups are less pronounced than ever before. The overall cancer-associated mortality rate among Black individuals was 33% higher than that of white individuals in 1990; it was 14% higher among Black individuals in 2016.
- Research has shown that racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes for certain cancer types could be eliminated if all patients have equal access to treatments.
- Disparities across the spectrum of cancer care can be reduced with tailored outreach and patient navigation.
- Studies and initiatives are underway to address gaps in knowledge about cancer biology among diverse populations. These include the AACR Project Genomics Evidence Neoplasia Information Exchange (GENIE) and the NCI-funded African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) Consortium.
- Training and career development programs that focus on diversity have enhanced racial and ethnic diversity in cancer training during the past 20 years.
“Undoubtedly, considerable progress has been made in our ability to fight cancer, with a 26% reduction in cancer mortality rates since the declaration of the war on cancer,” John D. Carpten, PhD, chair of both the AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020 Steering Committee and AACR Minorities in Cancer Research Council, as well as professor and chair of translational genomics and director of Institute of Translational Genomics at Keck School of Medicine at USC, said during the briefing.
“However, it is also evident that despite these improvements, disparities in the incidence and death rates of cancer persist among underrepresented minorities and the medically underserved communities in our country,” he added. “Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, many of the factors at the heart of cancer health disparities have been put into full view as we now are observing significant disparities in COVID-19 incidence and death rates among medically underserved communities and underrepresented minorities.”
For this reason, AACR has called upon policymakers and stakeholders to:
- provide robust, sustained and predictable funding increases for federal agencies and programs tasked with reducing cancer health disparities;
- implement steps to ensure diversity among clinical trial participants;
- support programs to ensure the health care workforce reflects and appreciates the diverse communities it serves;
- prioritize cancer control initiatives; and
- collaborate with members of the Congressional Tri-Caucus, which includes the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to pass provisions in the Health Equity and Accountability Act.
“There is significant activity across all public and private stakeholders to address these issues. We are also monitoring clinical trials and patient demographics for COVID-19 vaccine and drug trials to ensure adequate racial and ethnic diversity, especially given the increasing burden of the disease on these communities,” Carpten said. “As we continue to work together to mitigate cancer disparities, one of the areas of most promise is the diversification of the cancer research workforce — progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go. This inaugural and historic progress report will provide the world with a comprehensive baseline understanding of our progress toward understanding and eliminating cancer health disparities.”