Why Diversity in Cancer Research Is Needed

Diversity in science is critical because it invigorates problem-solving, drives innovation, and better equips the scientific community to address inequities that exist in cancer prevention, treatment, and care.

The lack of diversity within the scientific workforce is a known issue.

The National Science Foundation reports that certain racial and ethnic groups are under-represented at many career stages in health-related sciences, particularly people from these populations:

  • African American/Black
  • Hispanic/Latino
  • American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN)
  • Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander groups

Collectively, these groups are considered under-represented minorities (URM) in science.

There is a documented disparity in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant application pools. Data from the NIH’s R01 grants in 2013 and 2018 showed that significantly fewer applications were submitted from certain racial and ethnic groups. Specifically:

  • Only 7% of applicants were part of an URM group.
  • Less than 4% of applicants were Hispanic/Latino.
  • Less than 2% of applicants were African American/Black. 

URMs made up only 6% of applicants for American Cancer Society (ACS) research grants, with only 3% Hispanic/Latino applicants, for the fall 2019 and spring 2020 peer review cycles.

There is a clear opportunity to improve engagement and inclusion for scientists whose racial or ethnic background is under-represented in biomedical research. 

Source and more statistics.

Key Terms

  • Under-Represented Minorities (URM) in health-related science: The ACS DICR programs focus on racial and ethnic under-represented minorities. Across many career stages, these racial and ethnic groups are particularly under-represented: African American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander groups. 
  • African American/Black: People in the United States who can trace their lineage to Africa. Some Black people do not identify as African American. The Black lineage contains many histories, cultures, and experiences, including Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino populations.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN): A person with origins in any of the First Peoples in North, Central, and South America who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment. These include Navajo, Blackfeet, Inupiat, Yup’ik, and Central and South American Indian groups. The AIAN is a federally recognized tribal entity with certain rights of self-government and are entitled to receive US federal benefits, services, and protections.
  • Hispanic: A broad term that refers to people descended from Spanish-speaking countries or with Latin American (South America, Mexico, Central America, and certain Caribbean islands, including Cuba, Jamaica, and others.) ancestry. The term Hispanic is more commonly used in the Eastern US and is generally preferred by those of Caribbean and South American ancestry or origin. Hispanic is considered an ethnicity, as Hispanic people can be of any race.
  • Latino: A broad term that refers to people in the US with Latin American ancestry. Unlike Hispanic, Latino includes people from Brazil, who speak Portuguese. Latino has replaced the terms Chicano and Mexican American and is used primarily west of the Mississippi River. Like the word Hispanic, the word Latino identifies an ethnicity, as Latino people can be of any race. Latino is used for males, Latina for females, and Latinx to be gender neutral.
  • Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander (NHPI) groups: This umbrella term includes people with origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.

ACS DICR Programs

The Diversity in Cancer Research (DICR) program is a new initiative run by Program Manager 
Chanda Felton, MPH. It’s within American Cancer Society (ACS) 
Extramural  Discovery Science team, led by Ellie Daniels, MD, MPH