Like so many other aspects of our society, systems have been set up to disadvantage certain groups.

In this section, we have described only a handful of those systems that create disparities in cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, palliative care, and research.

LACK OF ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is incredibly expensive, whether you have insurance or not. However, some communities are even more challenged when it comes to accessing care because: 

  • Lower-income communities often lack insurance and can’t afford medical care, particularly preventative care. This can result in poor prognosis, and survival.
  • In 2018, the proportion of Black people living below the federal poverty level (23%) was more than double that of white people (11%). This directly affects how racial and ethnic groups are diagnosed with, treated for, and survive cancer. 

MEDICAL EXCLUSION

Medical research and education consistently exclude Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) patients. Case in point: 

  • Many doctors report that they were not taught to identify cancer on skin of color. 47% of dermatologists report that their medical training was inadequate in training them on skin conditions in Black patients, including skin cancer. Seriously, 47% .
  • BIPOC patients have historically been underrepresented in medical research, including cancer research. What does that mean? Well, if a treatment has not been tested on your community, it’s hard to trust that it will be effective in treating your cancer. 

LATE DIAGNOSIS

Due to an overall lack of access to care, many communities receive late cancer diagnoses, which in turn impacts their treatment options and chances of survival. 

For example

  • Black, Latinx, and poor people are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer than white and/or wealthy people. 

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS & RESIDENTIAL SEGREGATION 

 

The area you live in makes a difference in your cancer risk.

Did you know:

Residential segregation is the physical separation of racial and ethnic groups into different neighborhoods. What does this have to do with cancer? Residential segregation limits access to quality health care, fresh produce, and recreational facilities, which all can increase your cancer risk.

  • Living near certain pollutants and environmental conditions can increase your cancer risk. Across the United States, people face cancers spurred by environmental factors all the time. 

DISTRUST OF MEDICAL SYSTEMS

Since its inception, healthcare in the United States has discriminated against BIPOC people, ranging from inconsistent care to conducting experiments on BIPOC people without consent. Centuries of racist violence has resulted in many BIPOC people being wary of doctors and the overall medical system.

Some of these experiences include:

  • A lack of doctors or medical interpreters who speak languages other than English can result in subpar care for non-English speaking patients.
  • Conscious or unconscious medical provider bias impacts how BIPOC people are treated in medical settings. 73% of Black cancer patients believe they receive worse care due to their race.
  • The Tuskegee Study — Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. government studied syphilis in poor Black men without their consent and, after a treatment was developed, did not provide the men with treatment. This caused needless pain and suffering for the men and their families. Due to the Tuskegee Study, many Black people in the U.S. hold a lingering mistrust of the medical community.