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Disparities Persist Despite Progress

The latest edition of the Cancer Disparities Progress Report, released May 15 by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), outlines the many ways in which cancer care for minority groups in the U.S. continues to lag behind. (The AACR also publishes Cancer Today.) Among the findings are that Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer as white women, American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to die from stomach cancer, and transgender people have a 76% higher chance of being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer than cisgender people. “The findings of this report offer a deeper dive into the ‘whole person’ as it relates to the areas outside of medicine that contribute to health inequities,” Robert Winn, chair of the AACR steering committee that produced the report and director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center in Richmond, said in an article in HealthDay. The report also notes progress, in cancer outcomes generally and in disparities. From 1990 to 2020 the disparity in the overall cancer death rate between white and Black people shrunk from 33% to 11.3%. But the findings show how much more needs to be done. The report includes a call to policymakers to act on these findings, which will require getting greater diversity in research samples, investing in screening and prevention, and implementing policies to ensure equitable care to all patients. Prostate cancer survivor Todd Gates identified what he saw as the most important needs from policymakers in the AACR’s blog, Cancer Research Catalyst, “The first one is funding,” Gates said. “If you are going to get serious about it, provide the funding. The second one is funding … and the third one is funding.”

FDA Approves Self-collected HPV Test

More than 90% of cervical cancer cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week approved a test that will provide broader access for women to test for the virus. The FDA approved two HPV tests that allow women to collect samples themselves using a swab. While the tests will still require a doctor’s order, samples can be collected in a private room at a doctor’s office or even a pharmacy. Currently, HPV tests and Pap smears are typically performed by gynecologists, and many primary care physicians do not offer them. The self-collected samples will be sent to a lab for testing and results will go through the doctor’s office. “This literally just opens up another option for a different demographic of people that might not feel comfortable, that might not have access [and] may not have time” to get tested otherwise, Irene O. Aninye told the Washington Post. Aninye is the chief science officer for the Society for Women’s Health Research, a group focused on advancing women’s health and promoting research. This method of testing has already been deployed in Europe and Australia, but the National Cancer Institute will be studying self-collection in the U.S. to understand how many people choose this option and what they do with the information.

Plant-based Diets Linked to Lower Cancer Risk

Vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with an array of health benefits including lower risk of cancer and heart disease, according to a research review published May 15 in PLOS ONE. The review of 50 studies published from 2000 to 2023 found that the plant-based diets were linked to lower risk of developing cancer, especially prostate cancer and gastrointestinal cancer types such as stomach cancer and colorectal cancer. “This research shows, in general, that a plant-based diet can be beneficial, and taking small steps in that direction can make a difference,” said Matthew Landry, one of the review’s authors and a population health researcher at the University of California, Irvine, in an article on NBC News. Experts in the article cautioned that just because a product is vegan doesn’t make it healthy. Healthy plant-based eating should limit refined starches and added sugar and focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, soy, beans and non-hydrogenated plant oils. “You don’t have to go completely vegan to see some of these benefits,” Landry told NBC News. “Even reducing a day or two per week of animal-based consumption can have benefits over time.”