A Message from the AACR

This is a time of extraordinary promise in cancer science and medicine. As highlighted in our AACR Cancer Progress Report 2020, in the United States, overall cancer death rates are steadily declining, and the number of survivors living with cancer has reached a record high. The unparalleled progress against cancer is being driven by transformative science that is spurring advances in public health and breakthroughs across the continuum of cancer research and care. However, progress against cancer has not benefited everyone equally, and certain segments of the U.S. population shoulder a disproportionate burden of the disease.

Racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations are among the groups in the United States that have long experienced cancer health disparities. A glaring example of these disparities is that African Americans have the highest overall cancer death rate of any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. The stark inequities in cancer burden have drawn renewed attention and concern in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as the recently witnessed inhumanities against people of color. The significant social and health inequities experienced by racial and ethnic minorities are a result of decades of structural and systemic racism. Therefore, as a scientific organization focused on the conquest of all cancers whose core values include equality, diversity, and inclusion, the AACR is deeply committed to realizing the vision of social justice and equality for all racial and ethnic minorities, both nationally and globally.

Research has fueled progress in identifying, quantifying, and understanding the causes of cancer health disparities in the United States, which is a vital step toward developing and implementing strategies to eliminate cancer health disparities. Encouragingly, differences in the overall cancer death rates among racial and ethnic population groups in the United States have narrowed over the past two decades, and several studies have shown that racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes for several types of cancer, including prostate cancer and multiple myeloma, could have been eliminated if all patients had equal access to standard treatment. Despite this progress, the goal of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in the burden of cancer has yet to be realized.

As we look to the future, we strongly believe that a deeper understanding of the biology of cancer in racial and ethnic minorities is essential if we are to ensure that all population groups benefit from precision medicine, which is a new approach to cancer treatment that harnesses our growing understanding of individual patients and the specific characteristics of their cancers to make informed decisions about their best treatment options. Novel initiatives, such as AACR Project Genomics, Evidence, Neoplasia, Information, Exchange (GENIE); the African American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk Consortium; and the Research on Prostate Cancer in Men of African Ancestry: Defining the Roles of Genetics, Tumor Markers, and Social Stress study, are beginning to provide insights into the biological and genetic factors that are associated with cancer in racial and ethnic minorities. To accelerate the pace of this progress and deliver innovative breakthroughs for all people, it is crucial that the cancer health disparities research community develop research models and biospecimens that are representative of all populations. Further, the participation of racial and ethnic minority patients in cancer clinical trials must be increased as it will provide vitally important data for the improvement of clinical outcomes in these patients.

The AACR has been a longtime leader in advancing the science of cancer health disparities. Our organization has convened scientific conferences on the topic of cancer health disparities for over a decade, bringing together scientists, physicians, and other professionals from academia, industry, and government, as well as patient advocates and members of the community, discuss the latest developments in the cancer field, and stimulate innovative approaches to research on cancer health disparities. This year, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the AACR Minorities in Cancer Research membership group, which is dedicated to supporting the careers of minority scientists and fostering the field of cancer health disparities research.

The AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020 is an exciting new initiative with the overarching goal of increasing public understanding of cancer health disparities and of the vital importance of cancer health disparities research to saving lives. The report underscores the need for increased annual federal funding for the government entities that fuel progress against cancer health disparities, in particular, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Every American is entitled to equitable access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Health care is a critical component of these “unalienable rights”, and disparities in health care are among the most significant forms of inequality and injustice. The AACR will work together with all stakeholders to galvanize the momentum that has been created by the current movement against racial inequality to effect long-term positive changes in cancer research and care for the benefit of all. We will continue to actively promote high-quality, impactful science and policies that benefit everyone equally, and at the same time dedicate our efforts to the elimination of cancer health disparities and the inclusion and recognition of the contributions of minority investigators in cancer research. Furthermore, the AACR is committed to working with policy makers to ensure that cancer health disparities research becomes a national priority. By providing adequate funding for such innovative research, Congress can be of enormous assistance in unraveling the complexities of cancer health disparities and ensuring that we achieve the bold vision of health equity in racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations.