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ASCO Remembers Humanitarian and Health Equity Champion Dr. Edith P. Mitchell

Jan 22, 2024

ASCO is deeply saddened by the death of oncology luminary, health equity champion, and ASCO Humanitarian Award honoree Edith P. Mitchell, MD, MACP, FCCP, FRCP (London), on January 21, 2024.

At the time of her passing, Dr. Mitchell was the director of the Center to Eliminate Cancer Disparities, a professor of medicine and medical oncology, and the enterprise vice president for cancer disparities at Jefferson Health's Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. She joined the institution in 1995. Dr. Mitchell also served for 36 years in the U.S. armed services and was a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General, the first woman physician to attain the rank in history, according to her institution.

"Such a tremendous loss for the entire oncology community—here in Philadelphia, in the United States, and around the world. Dr. Mitchell was a force in GI oncology, a trailblazer, and a voice for those underserved," said 2023-2024 ASCO president Lynn M. Schuchter, MD, FASCO. "Dr. Mitchell was an esteemed ASCO colleague and devoted health equity champion. Her legacy will continue to inspire us all.”

Dr. Mitchell was highly engaged on the issue of health equity throughout her career, conducting research on clinical trial access and barriers to participation for underrepresented populations. Her clinical and research activities included breast, colorectal, pancreatic, and other gastrointestinal cancers.

“I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Mitchell doing our equity, diversity, and inclusion work,” said Sybil R. Green, JD, ASCO's chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer and vice president. “She often reminded me of her role on ASCO’s first disparities task force. She is also responsible for the Jane C. Wright Symposium at the National Medical Association meeting, held every summer. Within the Black community, Dr. Mitchell was tremendously respected as a trailblazer and mentor. She has certainly left her mark, and will be missed.”  

Humanitarian Work

In 2012, ASCO presented Dr. Mitchell with its Humanitarian Award, which recognizes an oncologist who personifies the Society’s mission and values by going above and beyond the call of duty in providing outstanding patient care through innovative means or exceptional service or leadership. Dr. Mitchell was honored for her remarkable, career-long dedication to humanitarian endeavors for profoundly underserved communities.

As noted in a 2012 ASCO Daily News profile of Dr. Mitchell, during the 1993 flood that devastated areas of Mississippi and Missouri, she led a team of volunteers to set up microbiology laboratories in key areas so that well water could be tested for harmful bacteria and agents, ultimately testing more than 1,000 samples of water throughout Mississippi while the state's microbiology lab was underwater. In St. Louis, Dr. Mitchell and her team worked to administer hepatitis vaccines and provide potable water to individuals.

Stemming from these activities, Dr. Mitchell was named State Air Surgeon for Missouri and was put in charge of Air Force volunteers and of setting up guidelines for resources and medical care. She also worked with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services administering immunizations for children to improve immunization rates, as well as performing physical examinations. Many of the children she encountered had limited access to medical care, including a 14-year-old girl who presented to one of the free clinics for an athletic-participation examination with hypertension and was found to have a kidney tumor. Dr. Mitchell was able to transfer the patient to the University of Missouri, where the surgeon performed the necessary operation free of charge.

Dr. Mitchell also provided access to care to underserved populations at a volunteer clinic within a large remote farming population. Consisting mostly of immigrants and farmers, the population was found to have a high incidence of sickle cell disease. Patients would then be seen at the University of Missouri for sickle cell care. Because the clinic was located 6 hours away from her home, Dr. Mitchell would drive in the evening before, see patients the next day, and drive back home in the evening.

Leadership Roles and Honors

Dr. Mitchell was an active ASCO volunteer, having served on the Task Force for Health Disparities and the Conquer Cancer Development and Fundraising Committee, as a contributor to digital education podcasts and Cancer.Net, and as a long-time faculty member in the Women’s Networking Center at the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Dr. Mitchell served on the National Cancer Institute Blue Ribbon Panel that advised on the Cancer Moonshot, the President’s Cancer Panel, as the 116th president of the National Medical Association, and as editor of the Journal of the National Medical Association, among innumerable volunteer and leadership roles. Her awards and honors were manifold, including the Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship from the American Association for Cancer Research, the Cancer Control Award from the American Cancer Society, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Alpha Kappa Alpha, in addition to her highly decorated military career.

Our thoughts are with Dr. Mitchell’s family and friends, her colleagues and patients, and the communities she selflessly served.

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