The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is proud to announce the release of the inaugural AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report. Disparities in health care, including cancer health disparities, are among the most significant form of inequality and injustice. The AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020 highlights areas of progress in addressing the challenge posed by cancer health disparities and emphasizes the need for continued research and for increased collaboration among stakeholders if we are to achieve the bold vision of health equity. The full report contains information of interest to the research community and the public, and it is freely available at https://cancerprogressreport.aacr.org/disparities/.
As highlighted in the report, racial and ethnic minorities have long experienced significant cancer health disparities. They are also shouldering a disproportionate burden of the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, further highlighting stark inequities in health care. In recent years, some progress has been made in combating cancer health disparities, as illustrated by the narrowing of racial and ethnic disparities in the overall cancer death rate. We have also made progress in deepening our understanding of the many complex factors that contribute to cancer health disparities. Most important among these are social, clinical, behavioral, cultural, psychologic, environmental, and genetic and biological factors.
Genetic mutations are the underlying cause of most cancers. Unfortunately, as pointed out in the report, most data on cancer-associated mutations come from white individuals of Western European ancestry. Many initiatives are underway to increase our understanding of the genes and mutations associated with cancer in racial and ethnic minorities, but there is an urgent need for much more research in this area if we are to eliminate cancer health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities.
More than 40% of cancer cases diagnosed among U.S. adults age 30 and older are attributable to potentially modifiable causes such as smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet, and infection from cancer-causing pathogens such as the human papillomavirus. As detailed in the report, exposure to many of the major cancer risk factors continues to be particularly high among segments of the U.S. population that experience cancer health disparities. Moreover, even though early detection of precancerous lesions or cancer can prevent late-stage disease and death from cancers, individuals who are not up-to-date with cancer screening recommendations are disproportionately found among the same segments of the U.S. population. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new strategies to enhance the dissemination of our current knowledge of cancer prevention and early detection and to implement evidence-based interventions to reduce the burden of cancer for everyone.
Despite recent advances in cancer treatment, racial and ethnic minorities are often less likely to receive the standard of care recommended for the type and stage of cancer with which they have been diagnosed. Notably, a number of recent studies have shown that racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes for several types of cancer, including prostate cancer and multiple myeloma, can be eliminated if every patient has equal access to standard treatment. To achieve health equity for everyone, stakeholders must work together to remove the barriers that prevent all segments of the population from benefiting equally from lifesaving progress in cancer treatment, including a serious lack of racial and ethnic diversity among those who participate in cancer clinical trials.
Even though research-fueled advances in cancer care are helping more people to survive longer after a cancer diagnosis, life after a cancer diagnosis can be challenging. The physical, emotional, psychosocial, and financial challenges can begin during cancer treatment and continue in the long term, but also appear months or even years later. As noted in the report, racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations often experience a higher burden of the adverse effects of cancer and cancer treatment.
A lack of diversity in the pool of well-prepared trainees and well-trained researchers, and a lack of diversity in the health care workforce may contribute to cancer health disparities. Enhancing diversity in training and in the cancer workforce will expand the perspectives included and represented, fuel creativity, and make the training pipeline and workforce more reflective of our increasingly diverse nation and the populations bearing the unequal burden of cancer.
Over the past decade, the field of cancer health disparities research has evolved from simply describing different outcomes among populations into an established multidisciplinary field of research, which has increased our understanding of the unique interplay between biology, behavior, the environment, and cancer outcomes. To further accelerate the pace of progress against cancer health disparities, additional transformative research is absolutely critical. Thus, the AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020 concludes with a call to action to Congress to make cancer health disparities research a national priority so that we can transform outcomes for every patient, regardless of their demographics, socioeconomic status, or any other mean of stratification. These efforts must be coupled with collaborative action by all stakeholders to eradicate the social injustices that are barriers to health equity, which is one of our most basic of human rights. This is why the AACR stands in solidarity in the fight against racism, privilege, and discrimination in all aspects of life and actively supports policies that guarantee equitable access to quality health care to eradicate all barriers to achieving the bold vision of health equity.