Advancing Health Equity – Addressing Cancer Disparities

No one should be disadvantaged in their fight against cancer because of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their 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. Many factors impact a person's ability to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer. Structural and social inequities, such as racism, classism, ableism, etc. shape the factors that influence a person’s health, including health-related behaviors and non-medical social and physical environmental factors (e.g., access to healthy and affordable food, transportation, and the financial means to pay for medications, housing, utilities, and other services).

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. African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups, people who have low incomes or are underinsured or uninsured, and people living in rural areas often face greater obstacles than others, such as:

Inclusion and equity are critical to our mission, and reducing cancer disparities by race and ethnicity is an overarching goal of the American Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. If we are to further reduce deaths from cancer and achieve ACS’ mortality goal of reducing cancer deaths by 40% by 2035 compared to 2015, we need to make sure everyone has the ability to benefit from the advances in research, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. All people deserve a fair and just opportunity to live longer, healthier lives – a key reason diversity is an ACS Core Value.

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, especially with and in communities that have been disproportionately burdened by cancer and who experience greater obstacles to cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and survival. This includes Black, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander, Indigenous, LGBTQ, and disability communities. This work must take an intersectional approach; that is, understanding that each person will experience discrimination or privilege differently, based on the inter-connectedness of different aspects of their lives. Health is not always “one size fits all,” and we must be intentional, thoughtful, and inclusive if we are to work in sustainable ways with communities.

As a grassroots organization, ACS and ACS CAN are re‐examining and deepening our efforts to intentionally advance health equity through our research, programs, services, and advocacy. 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. These issues guide us, and we’re proud to have staff, volunteers, partners, and funders who are deeply committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity. It has never been more important to the work we do.

Current areas of focus include the:

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