Health Disparities in Cancer
Health disparities are differences in the incidence, prevalence, mortality, and burden of a disease and the related adverse health conditions that exist among specific population groups.1 Disparities affect many groups of people, including racial and ethnic minorities, residents of rural areas, women, children and adolescents, the elderly, people with disabilities, and the uninsured.
According to CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, life expectancy and overall health have improved for most Americans in recent years, but not all Americans have benefited equally. CDC and its partners track trends in cancer incidence (new cancer cases), mortality (deaths), and survival (life after a cancer diagnosis) to identify which groups are affected more than others.
Increasing early cancer detection, promoting healthy behaviors, and expanding access to health care help reduce inequalities in cancer among groups at greatest risk.
What CDC Is Doing
Researchers at CDC have been studying which groups of people have not benefited equally from recent improvements in health care. Some of CDC’s recent studies were about—
- Influences and practices in colorectal cancer screening among health care providers serving Northern Plains American Indians
- Disparities in the context of opportunities for cancer prevention in early life.
- Racial/ethnicity disparities in invasive breast cancer among younger and older women.
- Validation of an efficient screening tool to identify low-income women at high risk for hereditary breast cancer.
- Racial and ethnic differences in health behaviors and preventive health services among prostate cancer survivors in the United States.
- Racial and ethnic disparities in HPV-associated cancer burden with first- and second-generation HPV vaccines.
- Breast and cervical cancer screening among Asian subgroups in the USA.
- Causes and disparities in death rates among urban American Indian and Alaska Native populations.
- Use of evidence-based interventions to address disparities in colorectal cancer screening.
- Cancer incidence in Appalachia.
- Breast and cervical cancer screening among Hispanic subgroups in the USA.
- Changes in knowledge and beliefs about human papillomavirus and cervical cancer screening intervals in low-income women after an educational intervention.
CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control sponsored a supplemental issue of the American Journal of Public Health about the leading causes of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Death records show that American Indian and Alaska Native death rates for men and women combined were nearly 50% higher than rates among non-Hispanic whites during 1999 through 2009.
AMIGAS stands for “Ayudando a Las Mujeres con Información, Guía y Amor para su Salud.” In English, this means “Helping Women with Information, Guidance, and Love for Their Health.” AMIGAS is a bilingual educational outreach intervention designed to help promotoras (community health workers) and other lay health educators increase cervical cancer screening among Hispanics who have rarely or never had a Pap test.
This campaign used radio and print media to make more women aware of the importance of getting mammograms to find breast cancer early. The campaign also sought to increase use of CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program screening services among African American women aged 40 to 64. It was piloted in Savannah and Macon, Georgia.
CDC Programs That Help Reduce Health Disparities in Cancer
- CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides mammograms, Pap tests, and breast and cervical cancer treatment to low-income, medically underserved, and uninsured women through states, tribes, and territories.
- CDC’s National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program provides seed money, structure, and support for comprehensive cancer control plans in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 7 tribes, and 7 U.S. Associated Pacific Islands and territories. Many plans include strategies to reduce cancer disparities.
- CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Program provides funding to support population-based screening efforts and colorectal cancer screening services to low-income men and women aged 50 to 64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screening, when no other insurance is available.
- CDC funds the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network, which works with communities and partners to find ways to increase screening for cancer and reduce health disparities related to cancer.
1National Cancer Institute. Health Disparities Defined. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.