ASCO Initiative Aims to Increase Understanding by Oncology Trainees, Early Career Cancer Providers of Impact of Social Determinants of Health on Equity in Cancer Care

October 21, 2020

As part of its ongoing commitment to addressing inequities in cancer care and research, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is launching a new educational series focused on the role of social determinants of health in cancer care and cancer outcomes. The free series, which kicks off today, will help educate oncology trainees and early career oncologists about social determinants of health and their impact on patients and cancer care.

“As cancer care providers, we have a responsibility to not just study how biology affects disease progression, but also understand how social determinants affect the lives and cancer outcomes of our patients,” said ASCO President Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO. “Our work to develop and deliver cancer breakthroughs is all for naught if our patients don’t have transportation to access treatment, money to pay for it, or trust in the level of care they will receive.”

Social determinants of health include the circumstances in which people are born, live, and work, and include social, economic, and physical factors that have a direct impact on health and health care outcomes.1,2 Evidence demonstrates that these factors can often be modified or overcome through identified interventions.3 They play a large role in shaping access to cancer care, as well as cancer outcomes. For example, 42% of cancer cases and 45% of cancer deaths in the United States are linked to modifiable risk factors, including smoking, excess body weight, physical inactivity, and alcohol abuse.4

This ASCO educational series is just one of several activities inspired by Dr. Pierce’s 2020-2021 Presidential theme, “Equity: Every day. Every patient. Everywhere,” which puts a sharp focus on the need for the oncology community to confront and address the complex factors that lead to disparities in cancer care and research.

“Now is the time for us to commit time and energy into understanding and addressing the systemic issues that affect the health of racial and ethnic populations in the United States,” said Dr. Pierce. “With this series, we hope to lay a foundation for the oncology leaders of tomorrow so that they launch their career with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to break down barriers and ensure each and every patient has access to patient-centered care that delivers the best possible outcomes.”

In August 2020, ASCO released a policy statement on health equity that set forth specific recommendations – including addressing underlying institutional and structural barriers to equitable care and education and awareness programs for oncology professionals – to ensure equitable access to care and research. The ASCO Health Equity Committee is developing a concrete strategic plan that the Society will pursue in the coming years, with particular emphasis on increasing workforce diversity, building partnerships with communities affected by disparities, addressing institutional discrimination in the oncology field, and increasing awareness and action on equity issues.

The first episode of the new series will feature a discussion on the basics of social determinants of health with Dr. Pierce; Abenaa Brewster, MD, MHS, chair of the ASCO Prevention Committee; and Katie Reeder-Hayes, MD, MBA, MS, chair of the ASCO Health Equity Committee. Ramy Sedhom, MD, a member of ASCO’s Trainee and Early Career Focus Group: Social Determinants of Health, will moderate the discussion. Future episodes will feature expert-led discussions on the various social, economic, and cultural factors that influence cancer outcomes and cancer risk, and how oncologists can take action to address those factors with their patients to help improve cancer care outcomes.

While the free series is geared towards oncology trainees and early-career faculty, all members of the oncology community are invited to access the information to increase familiarity with social determinants of health. Content will be available in both video and podcast formats. Additional educational content related to social determinants of health will be available through ASCO’s social media channels, ASCO e-learning podcasts, and ASCO Connection blog posts.


1World Health Organization, Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health equity through action on the social determinants of health. http://www.who.int/social_determinants/en

2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Social Determinants of Health: Know What Affects Health. https://www.cdc.gov/socialdeterminants/about.html

3National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on Community-Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the United States; Baciu A, Negussie Y, Geller A, et al., editors. Communities in Action: Pathways to Health Equity. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2017 Jan 11. 3, The Root Causes of Health Inequity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK425845/

4Mendes E. More than 4 in 10 cancers and cancer deaths linked to modifiable risk factors. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/more-than-4-in-10-cancers-and-cancer-deaths-linked-to-modifiable-risk-factors.html