Cancer knows no race, color, nationality, or ethnicity. But although any person may one day develop cancer, incidence and mortality rates for some cancers are disproportionately higher in certain racial, ethnic, geographic, or socioeconomic groups. Here are just a few of the many identified cancer disparities, according to the National Cancer Institute:

  • African Americans have higher death rates than all other groups for many cancer types, including breast, stomach, prostate, cervical, lung, and colorectal cancers.
  • Native Americans/Alaskan Natives have higher incidence rates for cervical, liver, bile duct, and kidney cancers.
  • Colorectal, lung, and cervical cancer incidence are highest in the Appalachian region of Ohio than in wealthier areas.
  • People with more education are less likely to die prematurely of colorectal cancer than those with less education, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Although research is identifying the biologic differences that contribute to cancer disparities, access to care remains a major factor. ONS, in its Access to Quality Care position statement, posited that all people must have access to affordable, quality health care without discrimination. In addition, it states that oncology nurses and advanced practice nurses, as essential providers of cancer care, address barriers such as geographical and financial issues and facilitate access to specialist services and clinical trials.

“Nurses have an ethical obligation to provide care to all people and promote access to quality health care, especially for those who are underserved, vulnerable, and under-represented,” ONS Chief Clinical Officer Lisa Kennedy Sheldon, PhD, APN-BC, AOCNPâ, FAAN, said.

In a similar vein, ONS supports the American Nurses Association’s (ANA’s) The Nurse’s Role in Addressing Discrimination: Protecting and Promoting Inclusive Strategies in Practice Settings, Policy, and Advocacy position statement. In it, ANA called for inclusive strategies for nursing care of all individuals, of all ages, and from all populations:

  • Immediate response to intentional or blatant discriminatory practices
  • Advocacy for policies that are inclusive and promote civility and human rights for all health care providers, patients, and others within the organization and community
  • Embracing a patient-centered approach responsive to the individual cultural needs and concerns of patients and families
  • Supporting and conducting research that is inclusive in nature, including diverse populations and their healthcare needs

ANA emphasized creating an environment of mutual respect and civility that would naturally promote nondiscrimination and could even reduce the incidence of healthcare workplace violence and nurse bullying and incivility.