World Cancer Day: Why Early, Equitable Access to Whole-Person Supportive Care Should Be An Essential Part of Cancer Care

By Audrey Haberman 

Today is World Cancer Day, a global initiative that works to raise awareness around the world, improving education about cancer, and spark change. It’s a chance for us all to come together to reimagine a world where we can prevent millions of cancer deaths – and where access to life-saving cancer treatment and care is equitable for all, no matter who you are or what zip code you call home. 

Advocating for equitable access to care for is a focus of the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. More specifically, we are working to advance a model of cancer treatment called supportive care, that ensures  people with cancer and their caregivers’ needs are met at every step of their cancer journey in an individually tailored manner—integrating physical and emotional health, as well as economic and environmental drivers of health, with clinical care. Early, equitable access to supportive care reduces costs, improves outcomes, and improves quality of life for patients and their families. We believe that supportive care should be an essential part of cancer care for every patient and family. 

It’s important to understand both the impact of cancer in the United States – and the disparities in cancer care nationally. For the United States, it’s projected that in 2024, there will be over two million new cancer cases, and over 600,000 lives lost. Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the U.S., exceeded only by heart disease. 

Millions of Americans will undergo cancer care in the year ahead. Unfortunately, cancer care data shows broad disparities through a range of factors, including race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location and inequities in health care infrastructure.  

For example, the survival after a cancer diagnosis is shorter for people who have lower incomes and who live in more rural areas. People of color have higher incidence rates than white people for cancers caused by infection. Black women have a 40% higher breast cancer death rate than white women, even though their diagnoses rates are slightly lower. Nearly 22% of American Indian and Alaska Natives do not have health insurance, compared to less than 8% of white individuals. Black men experience higher rates of new cases (incidence) and death than white men in certain cancers such as prostate cancer and kidney cancer. 

We need to close these gaps so that everyone has equitable opportunities for supportive care services, which can include care navigation, survivorship programs, specialists in cancer and aging, psychological and spiritual counseling, pain management, integrative medicine like yoga, massage, meditation, and a range of family support and care.   

But despite their proven benefits, broad, integrated supportive care programs are not widely available at cancer centers and hospitals around the country for people facing life-threatening illnesses.  

That’s why we’ve partnered with City of Hope, a world-renowned research hospital offering a uniquely holistic and multidisciplinary clinical approach to supportive care medicine. It is one of the largest cancer research and treatment organizations in the United States and a national leader in providing cancer patients with best-in-class, integrated supportive care programs. 

It’s also why in 2024, we’re building partnerships with advocates, patients and their families, providers, and employers to create a national initiative devoted to making supportive care the national standard of cancer care in the United States.  

We know the path for change will difficult. But working with our partners across the country, we’re more optimistic than ever that equitable change is possible.