President's Panel on Cancer Releases Report on Racial and Ethnic Disparities

April 28, 2011

Statement from American Cancer Society Chief Medical Officer Otis W. Brawley

WASHINGTON – April 28, 2011 – The President's Panel on Cancer has released a report on health disparities that points to an urgent need to expand research and improve understanding of the factors that influence cancer risk and outcomes among diverse populations. The Panel's report, “America’s Demographic and Cultural Transformation: Implications for Cancer,” states that knowledge of cancer risk, incidence, progression, and outcomes is based largely on studies of non-Hispanic white populations.  Therefore, the current understanding of risk factors, screening guidelines, and treatment may not be appropriate for individuals of non-European descent.  The Panel also calls for higher standards of "cultural competence" among healthcare professionals to better address cultural and language barriers that can negatively impact the quality of patient care.

Following is a statement from Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, the charitable nonprofit parent organization of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network:

"The Presidents Cancer Panel publication, 'America's Demographic and Cultural Transformation: Implications for Cancer,' is a well-developed synthesis of the issue of disparities in health. The American Cancer Society thanks the panel members and their staff and recognizes the diligence that went into compiling and writing this landmark report.

"The publication rightly describes cancer as a problem that is worse in certain populations be they defined by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or area of residence (rural vs. urban). The expansion of the issue beyond Black/White race is especially important. Population biologists need to help medical science in meaningful categorization of the population as we assess cancer impact and the outcomes of cancer control programs.

"Overwhelmingly clear is the fact that in order to advance our control of this disease we must understand the role that culture, habits, and environment play in cancer causation and the cancer treatment experience. We must also understand that the role of genetics in cancer is significant but it is not the whole story, and we must not let that blind us from seeing other factors at work here. The report clearly points out that race is a social and not a biologic construct, a point few Americans understand.

"The publication notes that some trends are very favorable at this time. Cancer mortality rates are trending downward faster among African Americans than among whites, and if this current trend continues, the disparity may disappear in the next twenty years. At the same time it is clear that a significant portion of the American population, however one defines them, is currently not receiving adequate cancer prevention and adequate cancer treatment. Interventions to provide access to adequate care to those who do not get it is imperative as American lives are being lost as a result."

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

Alissa Havens or Steven Weiss
American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
Phone: (202) 661-5772 or (202) 661-5711
Email: [email protected] or [email protected] 

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