Research on Cancer Disparities

There are higher cancer death rates, less frequent use of proven screening tests, plus higher rates of advanced cancer diagnoses in certain populations. These disparities are frequently seen in low socioeconomic groups, in certain racial/ethnic populations, and in people who live in geographically isolated areas.

Specific documented cancer health disparities include:

  • A higher incidence of a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer (the triple-negative subtype) is found more among African American women than women of other racial/ethnic groups
  • Substantially higher rates of prostate cancer incidence and death are found among African American men more often than in men in other racial ethnic groups
  • Higher rates of kidney cancer is found among American Indian and Alaska Natives than in other racial/ethnic groups
  • Higher rates of liver cancer is found among Asian and Pacific Islanders than in other racial/ethnic groups
  • Higher rates of cervical cancer and death is found among Hispanic and African American women than women of other racial/ethnic groups.


The National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducts basic research on the genetic and biological basis of health disparities involving several cancers and identifies risk factors and pathways that influence tumor development and progression. Researchers are also conducting studies on the molecular basis for breast cancer disparities along with the influence of non-biological factors.

NCI researchers are involved in trying to learn more about the genetic factors that may underlie the observed differences in breast cancer among African American women. NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) is funding several collaborative efforts to share biospecimens, data, and resources from 18 previous studies to examine the genetic causes of breast cancer in African American women.

In addition, DCCPS is supporting grants and collaborations to identify and understand disparities in terms of biology, cancer prevention, access to treatment, and survivorship care. Nearly half of all grants currently supported by DCCPS include a health disparities component.

NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) and the Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (PACHE) fosters collaboration with investigators at institutions that serve communities with cancer health disparities.


NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network and the NCI Community Oncology Research Program supports community-based clinical trial and cancer care delivery research. These community-based studies help to address cancer health disparities by increasing participation by minorities and patients from underserved populations in clinical cancer research.


NCI has joined with other organizations to form a disparities-focused think tank. The think tank is composed of scientific leaders and is in the process of developing a blueprint for prioritizing areas of focus for disparities research.

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