ASCO Targets Health Disparities, Need for Research in Achieving Health Equity

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In cancer, we can move toward health equity for all patients by strengthening research on health disparities and enrolling more underserved patients in clinical trials.

—Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC), and the Heart Failure Society of America (HSFA) recently held a Capitol Hill Briefing to draw attention to health disparities among minority and underserved patients and opportunities to achieve health equity for all Americans. The briefing, sponsored by Representative Bobby Rush (D-Illinois), highlighted critical federal investments in research to help close the health disparities gap.

Removing Barriers to Cancer Care

“In cancer, we can move toward health equity for all patients by strengthening research on health disparities and enrolling more underserved patients in clinical trials,” said Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP, ASCO Immediate Past President. “Research offers real hope to improving care for underserved groups and removing barriers that impede access to cancer care.”

Briefing keynote speaker Gary H. Gibbons, MD, Director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, highlighted the NHLBI’s Systems Science Approach to Addressing Health Inequities: Enabling Diverse Networks of Community Partners.

“Minorities are disproportionately affected by a number of cardiovascular disorders,” said Joseph Hill, MD, PhD, Advocacy Chair of the Heart Failure Society of America. “Among those disorders, heart failure, a highly morbid and lethal diagnosis, is rampant. There is an urgent need to identify novel means of preventing, diagnosing, and treating this syndrome, which is already the number one discharge diagnosis in Medicare.”

“Each year this briefing offers us an opportunity to communicate with Members of Congress and key staff regarding the ongoing need to address health-care disparities,” said Boisey Barnes, MD,
founding member of the Association of Black Cardiologists. “We hope that attendees will spread the word to their colleagues about the need for federal investments to help achieve health equity.”

Role of Research, States in Addressing Disparities

The Institute of Medicine landmark report Unequal Treatment provides compelling evidence that racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities persist in medical care for a number of health conditions and services. The report calls for a more robust research agenda to reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic health-care disparities, and to address some of the social factors that affect health-care outcomes.1

ASCO also highlighted the role of states in addressing health disparities. A recent Journal of Clinical Oncology analysis showed Delaware’s cancer control program was able to reduce colorectal cancer mortality rates for blacks by 41%.2 The study provides analysis on a novel design and approach used to eliminate colorectal cancer disparities for the first time by a state cancer control program. The findings indicate that eliminating disparities in cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and mortality is an essential step toward improved health outcomes for all Americans with cancer. ■

© 2013. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.


1. Committee on Understanding and Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care; Smedley BD, Stith AY, Nelson AR (eds): Unequal treatment: Confronting racial and ethnic disparities in health care. Washington, DC, The National Academies Press, 2003.

2. Grubbs SS, Polite BN, Carney J, et al: Eliminating racial disparities in colorectal cancer in the real world: It took a village. J Clin Oncol. April 15, 2013 (early release online).