The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the cracks in the foundation of our society. From the justice system to government agencies to our healthcare system, many have awoken to systemic issues in each of these important roles in American society. I’d like to talk about a topic where many conversations about these separate systems intersect: disparities in cancer care. I want to shed light on how stark the numbers are and recognize the organizations that are serving these communities. These critical resources are voices for those patients.
The National Cancer Institute has identified two main demographics that are particularly at risk with respect to equitable medical care: minorities and those in a low socioeconomic stratum. Wealth in this country is not distributed evenly across race, according to the Center for American Progress, and this can be traced back to minorities being excluded from wealth building mechanisms such as mortgage market discrimination and labor market discrimination/segregation. This is supported by the fact that “In 2016 the median wealth for black and Hispanic families was $17,600 and $20,700, respectively, compared with white families’ median wealth of $171,000.” This means that on average black and Hispanic families have approximately one-tenth of the wealth of white families.
Since these two high risk groups (minorities and those in a low socioeconomic strata) can overlap, it leads to dramatic disparities. For example, according to the National Cancer Institute, “African American women have the highest rates of death from [cervical cancer]” and “American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest rates of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer, followed by Asian/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.”
While these statistics appear grim, there are currently many organizations and initiatives that are working to combat these disparities.
Some organizations have created a task force that specifically researches disparities. These organizations include the National Cancer Institute, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Cancer Society and the American Association for Cancer Research.
Other organizations include The LGBT Cancer Project: Out with Cancer, African American Breast Cancer Alliance, African Women’s Cancer Awareness Association, Latina’s Contra Center, Redes en Accion: The National Latino Cancer Research Network, and the Sisters Network: African American Breast Cancer Survivorship Network.
We encourage you to engage with organizations that are dedicated to ensuring that underserved communities receive quality treatment and an equal standard of care. COVID-19 has exacerbated disparities and put pressure on the healthcare system in general. We recommend everyone to lend their concrete support, such as time or financial backing, during these trying circumstances.
“Mortgage Lending in Boston: Interpreting HMDA Data,” American Economic Review 86 (1) (1996): 25–53; Helen F. Ladd, “Evidence on Discrimination in Mortgage Lending,” The Journal of Economic Perspectives 12 (2) (1998): 41–62; and Susan M. Wachter and Isaac F. Megbolugbe, “Impacts of housing and mortgage market discrimination racial and ethnic disparities in homeownership,” Housing Policy Debate 3 (2) (2010): 332–370.