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Reducing Racial Disparities in Cancer Outcomes

Harvard Business Review

January 17, 2022

Kathy Giusti and Richard G. Hamermesh

Reducing Racial Disparities in Cancer Outcomes

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, but there are significant disparities by race and ethnicity. While the rate of new cases is similar for white and Black patients, the death rate for Black cancer patients continues to be higher (173 per 100,000 people) than for white individuals (153 for white individuals). While the gap has narrowed over the past two decades, it remains significant. Disparities exist for several types of cancer, including prostate, colorectal, breast cancer, and multiple myeloma. Yet despite higher death rates, all minorities, especially Black patients, have been and continue to be underrepresented in clinical research and registries.

The same urgency and cooperation triggered by the racial disparities in the Covid-19 death rate and the enrollment of people of color in Covid-19 vaccination trials are needed to reduce disparities in cancer deaths.

We offer a three-part strategy for enrolling more patients in cancer research that can be implemented immediately. It is based on interviews with dozens of health care leaders in the cancer space and insights from industry leaders at a recent summit we hosted for the Harvard Business School Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator. Interviewees and attendees at this summit included representatives of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), health systems and cancer centers, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, universities, and nonprofit organizations such as the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) and the Ad Council.

After applying this approach to reduce the disparity in the mortality rate for Black vs. white cancer patients, it can be used to address other populations and diseases.