The American Association for Cancer Research published its first progress report on cancer disparities, outlining the complex reasons why they exist and a plan for how the country can overcome them.
The report comes at a crucial time during the coronavirus pandemic, when federal officials and institutions are thinking more critically about racial disparities in health care.
This report is not the first of its kind in the medical community, but is a noteworthy step in the right direction for the AACR, experts say.
“As a scientific society, they’re making a statement to the world that health equity and cancer disparities are of such critical importance,” said Dr. Carol Brown, senior vice president and chief health equity officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “This report is giving (scientists) the guiding light to show them how to help.”
According to the report:
- Black men have a prostate cancer death rate more than twice that of white men.
- Hispanic children are 20% more likely to develop leukemia than non-Hispanic white children.
- Asian/Pacific Islander adults are twice as likely to die of stomach cancer as white adults.
- American Indian/Alaskan Native adults are twice as likely to develop liver and bile duct cancer as white adults.
Researchers note many of these cancer-rate disparities exist for COVID-19.
- Hispanics account for about 18% of the U.S. population, but 34% of COVID-19 cases.
- Black people account for about 13% of the population, but 20% of COVID-19 cases and 23% of deaths.
- American Indians/Alaskan Natives' rate of hospitalization is five times higher for COVID-19 than whites.
The report’s authors identified many factors that contribute to cancer health disparities, calling them “complex and interrelated.” The most important included education and income, access to health care, tobacco use and obesity, housing and genetic factors.
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“Many of these gaps have persisted for decades since rates and demographics have been tracked,” said Dr. John Carpten, chair of the AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020 Steering Committee. “To close the overall gaps we have to take a multi-pronged interdisciplinary approach to understanding the complex interplay between factors.”
Researchers not only pinpointed cancer disparities, but also disparities in cancer screenings and treatment. According to the report, whites are significantly more likely to be up to date with colorectal cancer screening than Hispanics, about 63% versus 47%. Black patients with bile duct cancer are 50% less likely to have surgery compared with patients who are white.
The AACR urged policy makers and stakeholders to work toward eliminating cancer health disparities by increasing funding to federal agencies tasked with reducing them, including a diverse population of participants in clinical trials and supporting a diverse health care workforce.
“These efforts must be coupled with actions to eradicate the social injustices that are barriers to health equity, which is one of our most basic human right,” the authors said.
Brown says participation in cancer trials is an “extremely effective” way to reduce and eliminate cancer disparities and achieve cancer health equity.
“We have started to really crack the code in regard to molecular cause … and have many treatments and trials, what’s called targeted therapy,” she said. “It’s critically important that diverse people participate in those clinical trials.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cancer health: AARC report outlines disparities, how to overcome them