In an interview with The Onco’Zine Brief on PRX | Public Radio Exchange during the annual meeting of the American Society for Cancer Research (AACR), Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, the current president of the AACR stressed the importance of addressing cancer health disparities.[1]

Caligiuri main concerns is that health disparities in cancer represent a major public health problem. By promoting the exchange of novel ideas and information between the AACR and a wide range of professionals from academia, industry, government, and the community, Caligiuri said that he hoped to drive a movement to help eliminate the disparities and harness the potential and maximize the many opportunities for bringing research on health disparities from bench to bedside or community, and back again.

Photo 1:0 Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, the current president of the AACR being interviewed during the 2017 annual meeting of annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 2017.

As part of this effort, Caligiuri noted, that as part of this effort we would, during his tenure as president of the AACR, bring together scientists and other professionals working in a variety of disciplines to discuss the latest findings in the field and to stimulate the development of new research in cancer health disparities.

His vision includes the idea that providers should ensure real-time monitoring of the experience of cancer patient to understand how patients they are being treated. Monitoring would give physicians and intervene when care and outcomes disparities are identified.

Joint Statement
Today, leading national cancer organizations released a joint position statement to guide the future of cancer health disparities research.[2]

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The joint position statement represents a unified strategy by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to foster cooperation across the cancer research community to ensure that all patients ? regardless of social demographics, socioeconomic status, or the communities in which they live ? benefit from cancer research.

?The AACR is committed to eliminating cancer health disparities, and we hope that the recommendations put forward through this unprecedented collaboration will promote cooperation among all stakeholders in the cancer disparities research community to ensure that research-driven advances benefit all patients, regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and community in which they live,? said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR.

Medically underserved populations
According to the statement, cancer health disparities are pronounced and well documented. Medically underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minorities and individuals of lower socioeconomic status, experience worse cancer outcomes.

As the organizations discuss, disparities are driven by a range of multilevel patient, community, and structural factors, including socio-demographics, health care access, lifestyle factors, and biological and genetic differences. While understanding of underlying causes of cancer disparities is growing, emerging and increasing cancer disparities among some populations continue to create new challenges ? requiring a deeper understanding of the multilevel, interrelated causes and how to effectively address them, according to the organizations.

The position statement was developed following a summit held by the groups, which brought together experts in clinical cancer research, epidemiology, public health, and health care policy, as well as patient advocates, to discuss the current state of cancer health disparities research and identify top priorities in the field.

Research Needs and Priorities
The joint statement, published simultaneously today by the four co-authoring organizations, outlines the following top research needs and priorities:

  • Defining and improving data measures and tools for cancer disparities research
    • Patient data are often incomplete, inaccurate, or overly-simplified and usually do not consider many social and community factors. Cancer disparities research is limited by a lack of comprehensive, consistent data on factors that impact disparities in cancer care and patient outcomes, including a patient?s social status and demographics, community and lifestyle factors, and biology and genetics, as well as by widespread variation in data collection methodology.
  • Addressing disparities in cancer incidence
    • Eliminating disparities in cancer incidence requires advancing knowledge of biological and environmental determinants of cancer incidence disparities, including a greater understanding of the role of genetics in contributing to higher cancer risk among certain populations.
  • Addressing cancer survival disparities
    • Currently, the interplay between system-level, biological, social, and environmental factors is often inadequately accounted for in cancer research. Counteracting growing disparities in cancer survival requires a more complete picture of the range of factors involved and how to track, identify, and address them.
  • Improving community engagement in cancer research
    • Poor translation of innovation in cancer care into health care systems in diverse communities has hampered the impact of innovative treatments and precision medicine advances on underserved patient populations. Ensuring that all patient populations benefit from advances in cancer care requires stronger community engagement in cancer research.
  • Redesigning cancer clinical trials to acknowledge and address cancer disparities
    • Recruitment and retention rates in cancer clinical trials are lower for some patient populations. Since clinical trials are the foremost means of generating reliable evidence on efficacy of treatments and patient care methods, changes to the clinical trials system are needed to improve the generalizability and applicability of clinical trial findings and better inform the care of underrepresented patient groups.

The joint statement released today provides a series of recommendations to address each of the outlined needs.? The authors particularly focus on guiding investments in cancer health disparities research. In addition to specific recommendations in each of these areas, the joint statement also includes broad action items that can be taken to further the field of cancer research disparities as a whole, based on the current landscape and existing priorities.

As part of addressing the unmet needs, the authors of the joint statement believe that investigators, research sponsors, and research publications should insist on the use of the highest-quality data measurement tools and the most granular data for conducting cancer disparities research.

Furthermore, the establishment of a health disparities research network and multiple consortia to gather relevant patient contextual data and bio-specimens are needed to effectively inform cancer disparities research that examines the multilevel factors involved in causing cancer disparities.

The authors also stress that best practice strategies should be designed and utilized to engage underserved populations in research studies and ensure they are informed of clinical trial opportunities.

Finally, researchers should be adequately trained in community engagement research tactics, and academic promotions should appropriately account for time needed to conduct community engagement research. Expectations for the possible need for funding beyond funding cycles should be made for community engagement research.

Last editorial review: July 24, 2017

* The complete interview with Michael A. Caligiuri, MD is available on PRX | Public Radio Exchange

Featured Image:? Attendees during the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Research Grants Presentation and Poster Session at the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting on Monday, April 3, 2017. During the annual meeting more than 18,000 physicians, researchers, health care professionals, cancer survivors and patient advocates gathered the meeting being held in the Walter E Washington Convention Center in Washington DC. Each year, the Annual Meeting of the AACR highlights the latest findings in all major areas of cancer research from basic through clinical and epidemiological studies. Courtesy: ? 2017. AACR/Todd Buchanan 2017. Used with permission. Photo 1.0: Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, the current president of the AACR being interviewed during the 2017 annual meeting of annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, April 2017. Courtesy: ? 2017. Evan Wendt/Sunvalley Communication. Used with permission.

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