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Cancer's toll on the underserved

By Roy Jensen, MD, cancer center director, & Ronald Chen, MD, MPH, associate director for health equity

Couple in a meeting.

August 11, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored deep-rooted inequities in healthcare. Cancer is no different. Some racial/ethnic groups suffer more than others. Disparities exist at every stage of the cancer continuum, spanning prevention, diagnosis, treatment and outcome. The results can be devastating, resulting in more cancer cases, more late-stage diagnoses and more deaths for some groups of individuals. For example, African Americans have the highest death rate of any other group in the United States for most cancers.

The University of Kansas Cancer Center has long honed its efforts on leveling these inequities. It’s a core element of our designation as a National Cancer Institute cancer center. More importantly, allocating our resources to help those most vulnerable is simply the right thing to do.

The issues surrounding disparities in cancer are complex, to say the least. Cancer center team members dedicate their careers to untangling the issues, looking at it from every angle. These efforts include:

  • Collaborating with pastors of African American churches to tailor and widely share information to help men and women receive colorectal cancer screening.
  • Decades-long partnerships to help minority men and women quit tobacco
  • Visiting local jails to understand and address high cervical cancer rates among women who have been incarcerated.
  • Partnering with our outreach network arm, Masonic Cancer Alliance, to provide free cancer screening to rural communities and improve access to clinical trials.

There is so much more to do. That’s why we have enlisted our Community Advisory Board as well as other established partners to help guide us, ensuring we remain focused on those most affected by cancer. We are listening, and we are learning. And we will continue to work to fight the inequities that affect cancer patients.

We look forward to providing you with updates on our efforts over the coming months.


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