A broad array of issues, from how the financial stress of cancer care affects health outcomes to the biological and environmental factors that may make some groups more susceptible than others to certain types of cancer were addressed at the Eighth American Association of Cancer Research Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved in Atlanta, GA.

Minorities and underserved whites suffer from disproportionately higher incidence and death statistics for certain types of cancer, including breast, cervical, prostate, colorectal and lung cancer.1

While overall cancer mortality rates have fallen over the last 20 years, mortality rates for African Americans remain significantly higher than those for non-Hispanic whites, and prostate cancer mortality rates for African American men remain more than twice as high as for white men.2

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In the keynote address, Douglas Lowy, MD, acting director of the National Cancer Institute, said “This is a scientific and social problem that is on the one hand very difficult to overcome,” he said, “but for which I think there are a lot of opportunities.”

Dr. Lowy noted that disparities in cancer care are not limited to patient populations, and include types of cancer that are better understood. “We have made very little progress in some cancers,” he said, “and those areas are also very worthy of our continued research. Even though this may not be disparities research, it is a disparity in contrast to many of the cancers where we have made substantial progress.”

He proposed 2 approaches to identifying opportunities for improved outcomes. One focuses on looking at one cancer etiology at a time. “As I have sadly learned, if all you do is take care of HPV-associated cancer, then [that is] all you have done,” he said. “There is very little implication for other kinds of cancer.”

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The second approach involves broad changes that could simultaneously improve outcomes for different types of cancer. “For example,” he said, “access and utilization of health care…could have an impact across the spectrum of diseases, not just on cancer, but also for other diseases.”

Dr. Lowy called for “better genomic, biologic, environmental, and treatment response information about cancer in minority populations,” and said “we’ve done this to some degree, but not as extensively as we should have.” He added that minority populations should be considered at the developmental phase of clinical trials.