Carcinogenesis. 2020 Nov 13:bgaa121. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgaa121. Online ahead of print.
Cancer health disparities remain stubbornly entrenched in the US health care system. The Affordable Care Act was legislation to target these disparities in health outcomes. Expanded access to health care, reduction in tobacco use, uptake of other preventive measures and cancer screening, and improved cancer therapies greatly reduced cancer mortality among women and men and underserved communities in this country. Yet, disparities in cancer outcomes remain. Underserved populations continue to experience an excessive cancer burden. This burden is largely explained by health care disparities, lifestyle factors, cultural barriers, and disparate exposures to carcinogens and pathogens, as exemplified by the COVID-19 epidemic. However, research also shows that comorbidities, social stress, ancestral and immunobiological factors, and the microbiome, may contribute to health disparities in cancer risk and survival. Recent studies revealed that comorbid conditions can induce an adverse tumor biology, leading to a more aggressive disease and decreased patient survival. In this review, we will discuss unanswered questions and new opportunities in cancer health disparity research related to comorbid chronic diseases, stress signaling, the immune response, and the microbiome, and what contribution these factors may have as causes of cancer health disparities.