I recently came across an article in Axios: “As cancer mortality declines, the gap between rich and poor emerges” which highlights the disparities in cancer rates between different socioeconomic patient groups. Although there is some positive news, mainly related to lower overall cancer mortality rates over the past 25 years, there is still disheartening news about how cancer disproportionately impacts different socioeconomic groups.
The Widening Gap Between Caucasian Patients and Minority Patients
Although the article highlights the widening cancer mortality gap between socioeconomic groups, there is also a real and profound gap between Caucasian patients and minority patients. For instance, A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports show that African-Americans have the highest mortality rate for all cancers combined compared with Caucasians. Furthermore, the 2015 Kelly Report indicates that African-American women in the U.S. are 41% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, even though they are less likely to be diagnosed with the disease. They also have the highest rates of the most aggressive and difficult to treat breast cancer subtypes, such as triple negative breast cancer. The same report highlights that African-Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates for colorectal cancer, and the five-year survival rate for Caucasians suffering from colorectal cancer is almost double the rate for African Americans.
The Implications of Broadening Disparity Rates for U.S. Healthcare Systems
These disparity rates have significant implications for the U.S. healthcare system. This is particularly alarming as some types of cancer, such as lung cancer, are mostly preventable. On average, people of color are faced with a growing list of healthcare disparities, and many of these can be traced back to socioeconomic factors and social determinants of health.
Cancer disparity rates for minority patient groups present some acute challenges. The U.S. continues to undergo profound demographic shifts, and minorities are comprising a higher percentage of the overall U.S. population. It is estimated that the U.S. will become a majority-minority nation by as early as 2043. Thus, the healthcare industry, companies, and the U.S. government need to invest in social factors to reduce these cancer disparities for minorities and people of color.
The Path Forward for Improvement Includes Cultural Competency Training
Additionally, hospitals need to specifically target minority patient populations for cancer screenings and prevention. Providing cultural competency training to physicians and hospital staff to provide culturally competent and relevant care to minority patients subgroups will be vital. These same organizations need to invest in workforce D&I infrastructure and strategies to recruit, attract, and promote minority physicians and other diverse professionals. There’s been no shortage of data showing correlations in diverse workforce composition and outcomes related to minority patients served. By investing in reducing healthcare disparities through better access to care, more frequent screenings, and better prevention treatments, only then can we begin to address minority health inequities.
Joseph Gaspero is a Consultant with the Kaleidoscope Group. He is a diversity and inclusion expert with a specific focus on the healthcare industry. Joseph has extensive knowledge and expertise in areas such as diverse patient groups, diversity in healthcare organizations, employee and business resource groups, diversity in clinical trials, and shifting U.S. demographics. He also has extensive knowledge and expertise on the intersection of diversity and inclusion with financial performance and other key organizational metrics. Joseph is also the CEO and Co-Founder of the Center for Healthcare Innovation (CHI), an independent, non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to making healthcare more equitable for all patients. CHI’s mission is to bring together experts and ideas from all over the world to improve healthcare for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, ethnicity, or other social determinants. Joseph’s leadership stems from a wide array of experiences, including founding and operating several non-profit and for-profit organizations, serving in the U.S. Air Force in support of 2 foreign wars. His skills include strategy, management, entrepreneurship, healthcare, clinical trials, diversity & inclusion, life sciences, research, marketing, and finance. Joseph has lived in six countries, traveled to over 30 more, and speaks three languages, which help him view diversity and inclusion through a global lens.