Research and Training Grants

The ACS funds scientists and medical professionals who study cancer. We also fund healthcare professional training grants for nurses, social workers, and doctors to help advance their education and experience cancer research. 

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Total Grants in Effect for Disparities Research as of March 1, 2020

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Total Grants Funding for Disparities Research as of March 1, 2020

Spotlight on Cancer Disparities Grantees

We use a rigorous and independent peer review process to select the most innovative research projects to support. Here are some examples of the research areas and scientists the American Cancer Society funds. 

Learning How Cancer Affects LGBQ People

Grantee: Brittany M. Charlton, ScD
Institution: Boston Children's Hospital
Area of Focus: Cancer Control
Grant Term: 7/1/2017 to 9/26/2022

The Challenge: People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) may have a higher risk of getting certain cancers than those who identify as heterosexual. These cancers include breast, colorectal, and lung cancer, as well as others. But because healthcare experts don’t always ask about sexual orientation or gender identity, that information isn’t always available to researchers.

The Research: Brittany M. Charlton, ScD, is looking at data from 4 large, national studies that include about 15,000 people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer/questioning. Charlton was not able to include transgender or transsexual people in her work because that data wasn’t available.

Together, the studies will provide multiple dimensions about sexual orientation, including identity, behavior, and attraction. She’ll also be able to study subgroups, such as lesbians and bisexuals, rather than just heterosexuals and sexual minorities.

She and her team are reviewing the data to see whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer/questioning people are more likely to develop certain types of cancer, have specific risk factors for cancers, and have differences in health insurance coverage as well as in health care. The team is studying all types of cancer but will focus on colorectal and breast cancer.

Goals and Long-Term Possibilities: Charlton’s goal is to provide more accurate estimates of cancer diagnoses across sexual orientation groups and a more nuanced understanding of risk factors. She hopes her findings will help improve cancer prevention, detection, and diagnosis. 

Learning to Predict the Effects of Liver Cancer to Improve Care and Quality of Life

Grantee: Curtis J. Wray, MD 
Institution: University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston
Area of Focus: Cancer Control 
Grant Term: 7/1/2012 to 5/31/2020

The Challenge: The number of liver cancer diagnoses and deaths from liver cancer are rising. People who don’t have access to routine medical care because of a low income or too little or no health insurance coverage may have the worst outcomes. They are more likely to have advanced-stage liver cancer at the time of diagnosis. They are also more likely to have advanced liver disease, such as cirrhosis.

The Research: Curtis Wray, MD, and his team are collecting data from two hospitals that serve people with low incomes and people who have no or limited health insurance. They are using it to develop a model that will help predict which factors might affect survival in this high-risk group. A diagnosis of late-stage liver cancer often means there is no cure available, so patients may benefit more from palliative care to control and ease symptoms, which can improve their quality of life. Being able to better predict a prognosis may give these patients the ability to make more informed choices about their treatment. Wray is also looking at how the timing of palliative care affects the quality of life for patients in this study.

The Goals and Long-Term Possibilities: Wray’s model may help other healthcare facilities that provide care to cancer patients with low incomes and inadequate or no health insurance.

Helping Cancer Patients Choose and Use Health Insurance

Grantee: Mary C. Politi, PhD
Institution: Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri
Focus of Research: Cancer Control and Prevention: Health Policy and Health Service
Grant Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2020

The Challenge: Many cancer patients and survivors lack adequate health insurance coverage  People who are uninsured or under-insured have a greater chance of having cancer diagnosed at a later stage, when it is  harder to treat. Cancer patients who lack adequate health insurance also have a higher chance of dying from cancer compared to patients with adequate insurance.

The Research: Mary C. Politi, PhD, interviewed cancer survivors to understand the challenges they face in selecting and using health insurance. Many survivors said that they weren’t clear about the cost of their cancer care and what their insurance would cover.

Politi used her findings to create a cancer-specific health insurance decision-support tool called Improving Cancer Patients’ Insurance Choices (I Can PIC). It shows cancer patients a personalized out-of-pocket cost estimate for different insurance plans, gives tips on how to use insurance, and lists resources for financial and emotional support.

A randomized clinical trial with cancer patients and survivors showed that patients using I Can PIC felt more confident in understanding health insurance terms than those using a generic tool. They also report a smaller financial burden.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: By helping cancer patients and survivors better understand and make an informed choice about health insurance, this tool could improve patients’ access to care. It may also help reduce financial distress and improve how well patients do after cancer treatment.

How Wealth, Race, and Rural Areas May Affect the Recurrence of Breast, Lung, and Colorectal Cancer

Grantee: Michael Hassett, MD, MPH 
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston
Area of Focus: Cancer Control 
Grant Term: 7/1/2018 to 6/30/2021

The Challenge: Research has shown that disparities in cancer care exist for people who are African American, have low incomes, and who live in rural areas. But few studies have looked at whether race, income level, or location might affect the possibility of recurrence, when cancer returns after it’s been treated. That’s largely because cancer registries that collect and store information about patients who have been diagnosed with cancer haven’t routinely asked doctors to report information about recurrence. 

The Research: Michael Hassett, MD, MPH, and his team developed a set of tools that works with databases of health records determine which patients had a recurrence of breast, lung, and colon cancer – three of the most common types of cancer.

Hassett’s team will use those tools to see whether race or ethnicity, income, or living in a rural area affects recurrence rates. They’ll also look at whether the type of hospital where people received cancer care makes a difference.  

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Hassett’s work may help others develop ways to address the health disparities that disadvantaged groups with cancer face.

From Our Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who relentlessly pursue the answers that help us understand and eliminate cancer and health disparities.

Understanding the Economic Effects of Cancer Treatment

Grantee: K. Robin Yabroff, PhD
Institution: American Cancer Society, Intramural Research Department
ACS Research Program: Surveillance and Health Services Research

The Challenge: Advanced cancer treatments may cost up to $100,000 or more per year. Due to medical costs, cancer survivors and their families often face financial hardship  which can be especially high for those who are uninsured or under-insured.

The Research: Robin Yabroff, PhD, Senior Scientific Director, Health Services Research at the American Cancer Society, and her team study the economic burden of cancer. They research medical debt and delays in treatment related to the cost of care. Yabroff also focuses on the problems cancer patients have when paying their bills, their concerns about the cost of care, and how they deal with the hardship they face. Her team’s studies have led to these findings:   

  • An estimated 137 million US adults have medical financial hardship each year. A 2019 report showed that people 18 to 64 years old were more likely to face multiple financial difficulties than people 65 and older who were eligible for Medicare. Lack of health insurance was one of the strongest predictors of hardship. 
  • Along with going into debt and having trouble paying medical bills, cancer survivors often make other financial sacrifices. In a 2020 study, patients reported cutting back on household budgets, having trouble paying for health insurance, putting limits on their careers, having depleted savings, and being unable to pay other bills.

Goals and Long-Term Possibilities: Understanding the scope of financial worries is key for planning programs that can help cancer survivors.

Studying Cancer Disparities

The American Cancer Society’s internal research team is:

  • Analyzing data on an ongoing basis from Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II) to explore disparities issues. We are also conducting a new multi-year cancer prevention study, CPS-3, to better understand various cancer issues including disparities. CPS-3 is also now looking at coronavirus in cancer survivors to understand symptoms and the course of the infection, as well as longer-term health effects related to COVID-19.
  • Publishing high-impact studies looking at personal barriers and health systems barriers to cancer care including financial issues (also called financial toxicity) and geographic availability of health care providers.
  • Researching the use of technology to help certain medically underserved populations get access to health information, preventive services, and evidence-based behavioral ways to change behaviors that may increase cancer risk. 
  • Studying how taxes on tobacco may affect health disparities. 

Disparities Research Informs Advocacy and Policy Actions

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society. Its role is to support evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. American Cancer Society (ACS) researchers collaborate with ACS CAN staff to explore how and why certain groups of people in the US are not benefitting from health care services such as cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment. 

ACS CAN is attacking disparities by changing or adding new evidence-based public health policies at the local, state, and federal levels. The goal of ACS CAN is to reduce these disparities and improve health outcomes for all US population groups regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or zip code.

For more information, visit the ACSCAN web site at

ACS Is Learning How to Better Integrate Health Equity into Our Organizational Practices and Culture

American Cancer Society (ACS) researchers and the researchers we fund through extramural grants are working to better understand what health disparities exist, what causes them, and how to decrease them. 

Our research shows that while overall cancer mortality rates are dropping, populations who are marginalized are bearing a disproportionate burden of preventable death and disease. If we are to further reduce deaths from cancer and achieve our mortality goal of reducing cancer deaths by 40% by 2035, we need to make sure everyone has the ability to benefit from the advances in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

A partnership and 3-year grant (2018 to 2020) with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is helping us do just that. RWJF is the nation's largest philanthropic organization dedicated solely to health in the United States. They’re committed to working with others to build a “Culture of Health” that provides everyone with a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

The purpose of RWJF’s partnership with ACS and our nonprofit, nonpartisan affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) is to advance the culture of health equity and make it a shared value for ACS and ACS CAN volunteers, staff, partners, and the community at the national, state, and local levels. We are doing this through trainings and other educational opportunities for volunteers and staff to deepen their health equity knowledge and skills. 

The goal of the partnership is for ACS and ACS CAN to enhance the integration of health equity into our organization, including collaborations with communities. ACS and ACS CAN will assist 12 community cohorts in piloting evidence-based strategies to address topics such as:

  • Financial security, including exploring partnerships to help connect people with cancer to financial resources and services 
  • Food security and access to healthy, affordable food
  • Transportation and mobility 


More About Our Cancer Health Disparities Work

ACS Cancer Health Disparities News