Cancer affects millions of people worldwide, and certain populations face a disproportionate burden of incidence, mortality, access to care, and representation in clinical trials. Oncology nurses can be a voice for their patients and an advocate for vulnerable individuals.

Recognizing the systemic racial disparities prevalent in cancer care, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Oncology Center of Excellence established the National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week, which will be observed from June 15–21, 2023, to raise awareness about cancer’s impact on the Black and African American community; advocate for improved access to cancer prevention, screening, and treatment services; and promote health equity in cancer care.

Understanding the underlying factors contributing to racial disparities is key to learning how to support and raise awareness for equity in care for Black and African American patients with cancer. Cancer mortality rates among Black and African American patients in the United States are dropping but remain disproportionately high compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Although we’ve made progress, we must also remain vigilant in advocating for ongoing efforts to address the racial disparities in cancer mortality rates.

Clinical trials are the only way we can advance cancer research and ultimately improve treatment outcomes. However, achieving diversity and representation in clinical trials remains a challenge. Oncology nurses must understand their role in promoting diversity in clinical trials. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Use evidence-based approaches to engage in clear and empathetic communication with all patients. Effective communication with patients, especially those from underrepresented groups, is a cornerstone of equitable cancer care.
  • Empower your patients with knowledge so they can make informed decisions about healthcare. Lack of information can hinder patients’ ability to actively participate in their treatment decisions and have more implications for their health.

As an oncology nurse, and through my own experiences with patients’ lack of understanding about their family history, as well as cultural beliefs and historical injustices related to institutional racism, I am pleased to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Oncology Center of Excellence on raising awareness for cancer screening, early diagnosis, treatments, and survivorship in the Black community. These public health campaigns save lives, and nurses are integral as community advocates, symptom-management educators, navigators, clinicians, and providers. We are now beginning to positively transform this dynamic, but there is so much more to do. The sea change will take an unwavering commitment for all oncology nurses, regardless of background. Cancer can strike anyone at any time. Asking questions and educating your own family is the good first step.

ONS Past President Mary Gullatte, PhD, RN, ANP-BC, AOCN®, LSSYB, FAAN

Oncology nurses can be a catalyst for change and have the power to advocate for increased cancer awareness for Black patients with cancer. By understanding the unique challenges that vulnerable populations face, nurses can actively work toward reducing disparities and equitable care for all.

Find resources on how to raise awareness on social media for National Black Family Cancer Awareness Week and learn how you can get involved in ONS’s health policy advocacy.