Health disparities holding back cancer care revolution

Jan 29, 2019
Health disparities holding back cancer care revolution

There has never been a more exciting time in the cancer field, but health disparities mean not everyone is reaping the rewards of ground-breaking medical advances.

Cancer death rates have fallen by 26% since the 1990s, saving almost 2.4 million lives, said the American Association for Cancer Research’s (AACR) 2018 Cancer Progress Report.

“Significant progress has been made against cancer. However, not everyone has benefited equally from the advances and adverse differences in numerous cancer measures exist among certain segments of the US population,” said the report.

The disparity challenge

It added that cancer health disparities, which effect groups including racial and ethnic communities, LGBT+ people, refugees and those without health insurance, posed a “pressing challenge”.

Non-Hispanic black men have a prostate cancer death rate that’s more than double that of men in other racial or ethnic groups, for example. Women living with a female partner are more than three times more likely to die from breast cancer than those living with a man. What’s more, people of a low socioeconomic status with anal cancer are more than 20% more likely to die from the disease than those of a high socioeconomic status.

“There are many complex and interrelated factors that contribute to US cancer health disparities, which makes it difficult to isolate and study the relative contribution of each,” the report said.

“However, given that a significant proportion of the US population falls into one or more risk categories, it is important that research into these specific issues continues.”

Factors that contribute to disparities include inequalities in access to healthcare and clinical trials, as well as differences in health literacy, socioeconomic status, genetics and exposure to environmental risk factors.

Life after cancer diagnosis

One particular area of disparity highlighted in the report is quality of life after a cancer diagnosis. Several sections of the population were found to be disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment.

Compared to their white counterparts, African-American women had a twofold increased risk of developing breast cancer-related lymphedema, for example. Young adults who survived two years or more after a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis and who lived in low socioeconomic neighborhoods had a 28% higher likelihood of respiratory system diseases, than those in richer areas.

“This disparity is not unique to the United States. In many developing countries, most patients and survivors receive no help in overcoming the physical, emotional, and psychosocial challenges that can occur as a result of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Leveling the playing field

Said the report: “One area of intensive research investigation is furthering our understanding of the contribution of biological factors such as genetics to the adverse outcomes for certain US populations.”

“Only with new insights obtained through research and through the inclusion of all segments of the US population in clinical trials will we develop and implement interventions that will eliminate cancer for all.”

It is imperative that the global biomedical research community work together to address disparities in the care of cancer patients and survivors, it recommended.

Now more than ever, an oncology revolution that benefited all was possible, it said.

“We have never been in a better position to take lifesaving cancer science from the bench to the clinic. We have the scientific knowledge, cutting-edge technologies, and capability to deliver a new wave of innovations that will transform cancer care,” the report concluded.

To read the full report click here.


American Association for Cancer Research (2018). AACR Cancer Progress Report 2018: Harnessing Research Discoveries for Patient Benefit. Available from: (accessed January 2019).

Health disparities holding back cancer care revolution

Astellas Patient Advocacy is a function within Corporate Affairs at Astellas that focuses on creating, building and maintaining third-party relationships. We serve as a conduit between Astellas and external stakeholders to help improve patient outcomes, improve access issues and address patients’ unmet needs head on.

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