Seven researchers from across the U.S. recently released a joint commentary calling out the lack of cancer research focusing on Asian Americans, who are disproportionately affected by the disease.
On Tuesday, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI) published a commentary based on last year’s “Conversations on Cancer: Advancing Equity in Asian American and Pacific Islander Communities: Racism and Injustice” virtual meeting by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Oncology Center of Excellence.
Moon Chen, associate director for community outreach and engagement with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and lead author of the commentary, explains that prejudices and stereotypes contribute to the neglect of Asian American cancer inequities.
“Asian Americans are unique as the first U.S. population to experience cancer as the leading cause of death,” the authors point out. “Bigotry against Asian Americans, pervasive since the 19th century, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is only exacerbating the cancer disparities that are costing Asian Americans their lives.”
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According to the commentary, it is essential to look into the impact of racism on cancer disparities and ensure enough funding resources are dedicated to representing and understanding the heterogeneity among Asian Americans, whose leading cause of death is cancer.
The authors further highlight that while Asians are the fastest-growing racial population in the U.S. of the past three decades, the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for research on Asian Americans has stagnated at only 0.17% of their total budget between 1992 and 2018. Even grants funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences resulted in a very limited number of studies focused on Asian Americans.
The commentary also notes the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in clinical trials, with only 1% of the trials focusing on including racial and ethnic minorities and only five such trials centering on Asian Americans, versus 83 trials focused on African Americans and 32 on Hispanics.
The authors suggest an approach to research that focuses on disaggregated data for Asian American subgroups such as Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, among others. They also mention that Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders were beyond the scope of their report.
To address language and other cultural barriers to seeking medical assistance, they also call for an assessment of the impact of “lived experiences and historical trauma,” noting that “culturally competent oncology care is required to improve access to health insurance/health care. ”
Finally, among their suggestions, they also suggest that listening and open communication with patients and community advocates throughout Asian American communities are essential to ensure community “representation, buy-in and engagement” in future research.