Leading a Revolution in Cancer Care Means Facing Health Equity Challenges
Examining the Critical Gap
The last few decades have been years of amazing progress in how we approach cancer care: emphasizing regular screenings, early diagnoses and treatment with targeted therapies that are helping many patients live longer and healthier than ever before. We in the oncology community are proud of the hope we’ve brought to people facing this disease. However, the pandemic brought to light how health disparities can set us back from achieving our ultimate goal of eliminating cancer as a cause of death.
While cancer incidence and mortality are declining overall in the United States, minorities continue to be at an increased risk for certain cancers.1,2 But we know that disparities in access and quality of care exist across a range of populations.
The color of your skin, where you live, your education level or your social status can determine whether you’re screened regularly, diagnosed early, treated with the right medicine for your unique disease, receive high-quality care or have the opportunity to participate in appropriate clinical trials. We have to do better. First, by understanding the biggest inequity drivers and then working together in the oncology community to overcome them.
Defining our Role in Advancing Health Equity
We’re led by science and the promise of curing cancer in every form. We’re driven to relentlessly serving our patients. At AstraZeneca, we believe that working toward equity in cancer care requires more than a one-size-fits-all solution. Here’s how we’re taking action:
- Awareness/Education: Raising awareness begins with building trust in the healthcare system, helping people understand their risk factors and the importance of routine care so that cancer can be detected in the earlier, more treatable stages. For those diagnosed, we must focus on removing the stigma of certain types of cancer while sharing treatment options and clinical trial data in easily understood language. All these steps are critical to reaching underserved communities, particularly those who have been historically mistreated. We also have to extend our support to caregivers, empowering them to advocate for their loved ones facing cancer.
- Clinical Trials: The newest treatment innovations are developed in clinical trials. We’re evaluating each element of trial design and execution to make participation easier for people who’d most benefit. How we do this is by refining inclusion criteria in our studies; simplifying study designs and execution (e.g., less assessment, establishing trial sites where patients live, etc.); providing transportation support, childcare and family support where needed; and communicating the data in plain language to patients after the trial has concluded.
To reach the broadest number of patients, trials need to reflect the diversity of people who will be treated with those medicines. We’re also looking at how to enroll more patients from diverse backgrounds and partnering with more institutions where patient populations live. By studying the real-world evidence from trials, we’re able to identify the pain points in a patient’s journey and improve the quality of care for all patients. These findings might even be more relevant for certain minority groups in particular settings, which enables us to better serve them.
- Quality of Care and Collaboration: We know that there is a clear correlation between optimal quality of care and patient outcomes. From screening those at high risk for developing cancer, to biomarker testing, to accessing the best treatments, to appropriate follow-up that will reduce adverse events, to working with a multidisciplinary team, we’re partnering with intention. Joining together across the industry with likeminded organizations helps us to understand how best to overcome long-standing barriers. We’re committed to collaboration at all levels of healthcare, including professional associations, patient advocacy groups, payers, physicians and hospital systems, to best reach patients and reduce disparities in communities nationwide.
Accelerating Change Together
Partnership is at the heart of our approach to health equity. That’s why in 2021, AstraZeneca created the Health Equity Advisory Council (HEAC), bringing together thought leaders from across the health ecosystem to provide independent insights and ongoing expertise related to health equity. The focus of HEAC’s long-term roadmap for progress includes improving cultural competency of patient and caregiver initiatives, ensuring reach to minority populations and driving interventions to address social determinants of health.
We also established Accelerating Change Together (ACT) on Health Equity – a multi-year investment in community partners to advance health equity priorities nationally and at the community level. This five-year, $25M commitment aims to improve outcomes for patients, with a focus on medically underserved populations. AstraZeneca is committed to moving the needle on health equity and we know that these investments will pay off over time to benefit the patients and families we serve.
AstraZeneca recently joined President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Goals Forum to strategize on how to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years. Our leaders have engaged with experts from across the private and public sectors, patient advocates and those living with cancer to strategize how to double clinical trial enrollment, increase equity in trials and improve access to screening in rural areas.
Looking Ahead to the Future
The revolution in cancer care is moving more rapidly today than ever before. When I think about the number of lives that we’ve been able to touch and will impact in the next few years, I’m in awe of what we’ve achieved so far.
Conferences like the ASCO Annual Meeting remind me that for all our accomplishments in research, every person deserves access to the lifesaving medicines and treatments that the industry is developing. We still have a lot of work to do but we’re energized by our progress to date and we’re not slowing down. With our collective commitment, we can ensure that all patients can receive the best possible care – no matter their background. Together, we will eliminate cancer as a cause of death.
To learn more about our work in health equity and other community-based initiatives, please visit www.astrazeneca-us.com.