ACS CAN Leads Conversation to Address Health Disparities and COVID-19 Impact on Cancer Care

Uniting Lawmakers and Health Leaders to Spark Action That Eliminates Barriers to Care

August 21, 2020

COLUMBIA, SC — August 21, 2020 — Alongside shining a bright light on growing health inequities, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for cancer patients and survivors to receive the care they need and has led to delays in preventive screenings, diagnostic testing and treatment care.

A recent survey from the American Cancer Society (ACS CAN) found that 87% of cancer patients and survivors said the pandemic had affected their health care in some manner, while an assessment by the Epic Health Network in March found that 86% of preventive cancer screenings had been delayed or cancelled.  

Today, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) hosted its annual Health Policy Forum titled COVID-19: Through the Cancer Lens in an effort to bring together thought leaders and decision makers that can address the growing health and cancer disparities in South Carolina exacerbated by the unforeseen impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Thaddeus Bell, M.D. is one such voice who has dedicated his life to addressing the longstanding health disparities experienced by communities of color through his medical practice located in Charleston and work in the community to promote and improve health literacy.

“Access to affordable, comprehensive quality health care is crucial in improving the quality of life and reducing the health burden on communities of color,” shared Dr. Bell. “It is also equally important that the health system recognize the centuries-old legacy of racism in medicine that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed. From a policy standpoint, Medicaid expansion would dramatically improve healthcare and bring us closer to closing these gaps.”

The delays in care due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been more devastating in Hispanic, Latino/a/x and Black communities that have less access to health insurance coverage and experience higher cancer incidence and mortality rates.

“Achieving health equity begins with increasing access to health care in every community,” noted Dr. Eberth, American Cancer Society researcher and University of South Carolina Associate Professor in the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department. “Research continually shows we can reduce or eliminate health disparities when cancer patients are treated justly and have equal access to high-quality screening and treatment services. Yet, there are still many policies and structures in place that negatively impact patients -- particularly rural populations, persons of color and those without health insurance. It’s time for a shift in our thinking about how best to deliver healthcare to ensure we are reaching all communities and supporting those who need it most.”

For many, the pressures of COVID-19 have stripped away their security. In South Carolina alone, more than 211,000 individuals have filed for unemployment since March leaving too many with lost coverage from their employer’s health plan or no affordable option for coverage.

“Rarely has the need for comprehensive health care coverage been as clear as it today,” noted ACS CAN Government Relations Director Beth Johnson. “Compared to those with insurance, uninsured individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage cancers and twice as likely to die from the disease. Access to health care and early screenings are critical in the fight against cancer and needs to be made a priority as we consider the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and how to better serve our rural and underserved communities.”

Other special guests at the event included Dr. Gene Saylors, President of the South Carolina Oncology Society; Dr. Anil Yallapragada, Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology; Annie Thibault, Director of University of South Carolina Colon Cancer Prevention Network and Rep. Bill Herbkersman, Chair of House Ways and Means Healthcare Subcommittee. The event was held virtually and sponsored by Genentech, Janssen Oncology, Novrtis, PhRMA, Roper St. Francis Healthcare of Charleston, GSK, Merck, Kinard Consulting and Riley, Pope & Laney.



ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit