Charting the Future of Cancer Health Disparities Research

Sep 06, 2017

Leading national cancer organizations have released a joint position statement to guide the future of cancer health disparities research. The statement represents a unified strategy by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the American Cancer Society (ACS), ASCO, and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to foster cooperation across the cancer research community to ensure that all patients—regardless of social demographics, socioeconomic status, or the communities in which they live—benefit from cancer research.

Cancer health disparities are pronounced and well documented. Medically underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minorities and individuals of lower socioeconomic status, experience worse cancer outcomes. As the organizations discuss in the statement, disparities are driven by a range of multilevel patient, community, and structural factors, including sociodemographics, health care access, lifestyle factors, and biologic and genetic differences. While our understanding of the underlying causes of cancer disparities is growing, emerging and increasing cancer disparities among some populations continue to create new challenges—requiring a deeper knowledge of the interrelated causes and how to effectively address them.

The joint statement, published simultaneously this summer by the four co-authoring organizations, outlines the following top research needs and priorities:

  • Define and improve data measures and tools for cancer disparities research
  • Address disparities in cancer incidence
  • Address cancer survival disparities
  • Improve community engagement in cancer research
  • Redesign cancer clinical trials to acknowledge and address cancer disparities


The statement provides a series of recommendations to address each of these outlined needs, with a particular focus on guiding investments in cancer health disparities research. In addition to specific recommendations in each of these areas, the statement also includes broad actions that can be taken to advance the field of cancer research disparities as a whole, based on the current landscape and existing priorities:

  • Investigators, research sponsors, and research publications must insist on the use of the highest-quality data measurement tools and the most granular data for conducting cancer disparities research.
  • Establishment of a health disparities research network and multiple consortia to gather relevant patient contextual data and biospecimens are needed to effectively inform cancer disparities research that examines the multilevel factors involved in causing cancer disparities.
  • Best practice strategies must be designed and utilized to engage underserved populations in research studies and ensure they are informed of clinical trial opportunities.
  • Researchers must be adequately trained in community engagement research tactics, and academic promotions should appropriately account for time needed to conduct community engagement research. Expectations for the possible need for support beyond funding cycles should be made for community engagement research.
  • Cancer treatment systems must ensure real-time monitoring of patient experiences to understand how patients are being treated and intervene when care and outcomes disparities are identified.

Charting the Future of Cancer Health Disparities Research: A Position Statement from the American Association for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the National Cancer Institute,” was published simultaneously in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Cancer Research, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, and on the NCI website.

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