Skip to main content

Advancing Health Equity – Addressing Cancer Disparities

We believe all people should have a fair and just opportunity to live a longer, healthier life free from cancer regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, or where they live.

For the American Cancer Society (ACS) and our non-profit, non-partisan affiliate American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN)SM, health equity means everyone has a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. It requires us to eliminate barriers and address needs to ensure everyone has the same opportunity to be healthy and cancer-free. People have different circumstances, and because of this, the tools and resources will be different from one person to the next in order to achieve health equity. 

illustration of people gathering at a park

Meet Jenny and MaryAnn: childhood friends, both with breast cancer, but with very different experiences. After viewing the video, we encourage you to reflect on what you observed and then connect with friends, family, and co-workers. Think about how you can apply a health equity lens in your daily work, decision-making, and interactions with others. It will take all of us working together to change the narrative for survivors like MaryAnn. Hear her story, continue the conversation with our Discussion Guide, and learn how you can join the fight to advance health equity by continuing below.

Health Equity through the Cancer Lens

Cancer is a disease that can affect anyone, but it doesn’t affect everyone equally. Many barriers can impact a person's ability to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. These barriers are because of deeply rooted, long-standing inequities at all levels of society that will take an intentional effort to address in order to have equal cancer outcomes.  They are complex and have many social, economic, and cultural influences that intertwine and impact each other. They include such examples as: 

  • Racism and other forms of discrimination
  • Poverty
  • Limited access to the health care system, including affordable and adequate insurance coverage and access to high-quality health care
  • Inadequate pay and lack of paid time off from work for medical care- Low-quality education 
  • Lack of access to healthy and affordable foods- Lack of transportation that is accessible, affordable, and reliable-
  • Lack of safe, stable, and affordable housing

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical to achieving our mission, and reducing cancer disparities is an overarching goal of the American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. We need to make sure everyone has the ability to benefit from advancements in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. All people deserve a fair and just opportunity to live longer, healthier lives; this is demonstrated through our Core Value of diversity and intentionally striving for equity through inclusion and respect. 

We believe that we will not reach our mission if we are not inclusive of every community touched by cancer, actively working towards ending cancer disparities. We acknowledge that there is still much work to be done, in partnership with communities that have been disproportionately burdened by cancer and who experience greater obstacles to cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and survival. This includes Black people and African Americans; Hispanic/Latino people; Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders; Indigenous people and Alaska Natives; LGBTQ+ people; and people with disabilities. This work must take an intersectional approach; that is, understanding that people have overlapping identities, which are varied, complex, and shaped by the systems they interact with. Health is not always “one size fits all,” and we must be intentional, thoughtful, and inclusive if we are to have long-lasting impact.

…In short, we are leading the fight against cancer that benefits all, and ‘walking the talk’ in every aspect of our organization. I am proud of what we have achieved so far, proud of what we have planned, and proud that the American Cancer Society is ‘the’ leader in leveraging advocacy, discovery, and patient support to bring about equity in cancer prevention and cancer care.

Dr. Karen Knudsen

Chief Executive Officer, American Cancer Society

As a grassroots organization, ACS and ACS CAN are re‐examining and deepening our efforts to intentionally advance health equity throughout our mission including advocacy, discovery, and patient support.  Most importantly, if we are to reduce cancer disparities, we need to listen to the experiences and perspectives of people with cancer, their caregivers, and their communities, and engage them in the fight against cancer every step of the way. We’re proud to have staff, volunteers, partners, and funders who are deeply committed to diversity, inclusion, and health equity. It has never been more important to the work we do.

Muslim husband and wife walking the streets with children

American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Health Equity Resources:


  • Cancer Disparities: A Chartbook: Illustrates the scope of cancer disparities that exist across our nation. 
  • Public Policy Resources: Reducing Health Disparities: An overview of ACS CAN’s health equity efforts and related resources


Patient Support