Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Cancer Care

CURE, Winter 2021,

The past year has spotlighted racial inequities not only in the U.S., but worldwide. It has also opened our eyes as to how a major health disruption — in this case, a pandemic — can aggravate the unacceptable status quo.

Our country, as well as the rest of the world, is uneven in how society is treated based on many unalterable factors such as race and ethnic heritage — characteristics that permeate just about every aspect of daily life. In health care delivery, such disparities are well documented and are further complicated and magnified by associated factors such as education level, income, employment and access to care. Cancer care is among the most expensive and complicated medical deliverables and, perhaps, the most affected by racial disparities. Imbalances among racial groups that exist in many corners permeate every dimension of cancer, from lifestyle and preventive aspects to availability of cancer screening, timely diagnosis of cancer and rapid access to treatment and follow-up. Because research into this topic has increased in the past few decades, this subject has come to the forefront of government officials, the health care industry, businesses that provide and purchase health care coverage, and the public in general.

How has this information influenced policy and laws? Has it really helped level the playing field for all races and ethnicities? Are cancer outcomes starting to improve for affected racial groups?

In this issue of CURE®, you will learn more about these disparities and some of the underlying reasons we find ourselves in this situation. You will read about examples of and possible reasons for racial inequities in different parts of patients’ cancer journeys.

A deeper dive into specific ethnic and racial groups will provide some context and personalize this problem — illustrating that we all own it and need to address it as a society. As is our tradition, you will get specific facts and figures that illustrate the magnitude of the problem. For example, postoperative mortality after cancer surgery has improved over the years, but there is still a gap in death rates — it remains higher for Black patients compared with White patients, according to a large analysis using national Medicare data. Disparities in outcomes also exist for Hispanic/ Latino patients with cancer.

The past year has spotlighted racial inequities not only in the U.S., but worldwide. It has also opened our eyes as to how a major health disruption — in this case, a pandemic — can aggravate the unacceptable status quo. This issue will also provide some hopeful and positive new trends on both small and large scales that we hope can move us toward greater cancer care equality.