Solutions from Our 'Close the Gap' Conference
- The racial disparities existing within cancer care need to be addressed, so we brought a panel of experts and advocates to explain exactly how we can do that during our ‘Close the Gap’ conference.
- Educating people about the need for diversity within cancer clinical trials and the importance of cancer screenings is one way to combat racial disparities in cancer care.
- Increasing involvement from minority communities is essential, but it’s important to understand why some communities are hesitant to partake in the medical community’s efforts to ‘close the gap.’
Panelist Claire Mulhearn, global head of health communications & engagement at Merck, said the pharmaceutical company is actively aligning itself with initiatives dedicated to problem-solving such as the the Lasarex Cancer Foundation’s IMPACT (improving patient access to cancer clinical trials) program. Merck is a co-sponsor of the “multi year nationwide program to increase cancer clinical trial enrollment, retention, minority participation and equitable access – getting cancer drugs to market faster and finishing oncology clinical trials on time and on budget,” according to the program’s website.Read More
“We’re focusing on the most at-risk patients within the U.S. who are disproportionately impacted by poverty or health inequities,” Mulhearn said.
But programs like these rely on the willingness of people to participate. Panelist Kimberly Alexander, CEO of Level Health Agency and a multiple myeloma advocate, said a lack of commitment is her main concern when it comes to creating change. Lack of diversity in clinical trial participation is an issue, for example, because these trials serve as the gateway to government approval of cancer drugs. When these trials lack diversity, the approvals may not accurately reflect what is best for racial minorities with certain types of cancer. She talked about multiple myeloma as a concrete example of why we need people to participate in clinical trials given that African Americans have more than twice the incidence rate of multiple myeloma compared to white Americans.
“They’re going to have to show up more than one time,” Alexander said. “It can’t be, ‘Hey, we’re gonna show up and support you all,’ five people turn out and they decide they don’t want to come out and support anymore because they didn’t get the ROI (return on investment) they were looking for. I think that there just needs to be some long-term ideas, some over-thinking, some commitment to sticking with these communities and letting them know the importance of having their DNA in clinical trials.”
But education about clinical trials isn’t the only thing we need to focus on when it comes to addressing racial disparities. We also need to get more people on-board with essential cancer screenings. Panelist Jackie Berangere, a patient navigator at NYU Langone Health, said many people in communities of color avoid screenings because they don’t want to know if they have a cancer diagnosis for various reasons — including finances.
“They’re afraid to find out whether or not they have a diagnosis, believe it or not, and we can try to tell them the sooner you get diagnosed the better because then you have better chances of survival, you have better chances of better options, but because of their current living situations… they just don’t want to face it at this moment,” Berangere said. “We have a lot of single parents, we have a lot of undocumented immigrants who are single parents as well. They feel that if something happens to them, what’s gonna happen to everybody else.”
Panelist Shalini Vallabhan, managing director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, echoed the importance of screenings and said the pandemic put everyone at a disadvantage.
“The COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc on all of us as individuals in terms of accessing our timely and appropriate cancer screenings,” Vallabhan said. “So, we’re advocating for the National Breast and Cervical Early Detection Program. This is such a critically important and successful program that provides screenings to low-income, uninsured, underinsured women, and a majority of those women are women of color.”