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October 3, 2022

Addressing geography-based health disparities

With almost 2 million new cancer diagnoses every year,1 nearly every person in the United States has been touched by the disease – either personally or through a loved one, friend, or colleague. Fortunately, cancer knowledge is growing rapidly, and researchers are making continuous strides in developing new treatments and advancing diagnostics. In fact, what we know about disease and treatment is growing exponentially – where it once took medical knowledge 50 years to double, it now takes a mere 73 days.2 This means new ways of diagnosing and treating cancers with precise, individualized methods are constantly being refined.

 Geography matters

Cancer innovations remain out of reach for many. National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Care Centers, where cutting-edge cancer research is conducted, are predominantly located in urban areas, with only 53 facilities in 32 states.3 About 46 million people - 14% of the 2021 U.S. population – live in rural communities.4 This means some people with cancer must travel hundreds of miles to access oncology subspecialist expertise and care in precision medicine. As a result, just 20% of all U.S. cancer patients are seen at an NCI-level facility,5 meaning the vast majority are not benefiting from the latest innovations in cancer research.

[More from AccessHope: Why NCI level expertise is important]

As survival rates are significantly higher for patients treated at NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers than those treated at local hospitals, it is important to bridge the knowledge gap and bring the latest advancements in research from NCI-level centers to treating oncologists in the community rather than asking patients who are already burdened with managing their cancer diagnosis to travel to a facility far from home. While deployment of telemedicine expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic, not every patient has access to the tools needed to optimize telehealth delivery, like high-speed internet, so it is not a blanket solution to closing geographical gaps in care.6 Moreover, people in rural areas are likelier to face health disparities due to socioeconomic status, higher rates of tobacco use, poor diet, lower vaccination rates for viruses like HPV that can cause cancer, and lower awareness of cancer risks and benefits of screening.7 While advancements in cancer research lead to improved rates of survivorship overall, the mortality rate has declined at a slower pace in rural areas.8 This further expands the gap in treatment outcomes and survivorship between people in rural communities and those in metropolitan areas with access to a wide range of options for cancer care.

Keeping pace with best practices and innovations

Because there are so many types of cancer and the body of research is constantly growing, it is nearly impossible for providers to stay abreast of every new clinical trial, medication, and treatment strategy. With so much of their time dedicated to patient care, community oncologists, especially those that treat multiple types of cancer and have large patient caseloads, often don’t have the bandwidth to keep up with the frequent changes in best practices.

AccessHope is closing the cancer care knowledge gap

AccessHope developed a revolutionary model that offers U.S. employers the benefit of cancer support services for their employees and families. Access to renowned experts at NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers at the forefront of the latest research is opened, bringing hope to people with cancer sooner in their treatment journey. Employees with this benefit can contact experienced nurses for compassionate support along their cancer journey while their local, treating oncologist receives support and expertise from NCI-level subspecialists to deliver optimal treatment plans tailored to the individual patient.

AccessHope potentially influences the course of treatment in more than 80% of cancer cases in which we are asked to contribute. Cancer subspecialists can support local oncologists and review cases with keen knowledge of the newest personalized treatments, such as clinical trials, breakthrough medications, genetic/genomic testing, and targeted therapies. Less than 5% of people with cancer enroll in clinical trials, often due to demographic and socioeconomic barriers. In 35% of cases, AccessHope has made recommendations connecting those who need them most to groundbreaking trials, offering hope for treatment outcomes.

Bringing expertise to community oncologists so patients can continue to receive care without having to travel far from home can improve outcomes for patients while allowing them to maintain their quality of life and prioritize time with their support systems at home. Everyone should have access to cutting-edge cancer care, regardless of where they live.

To learn how you can better support your employees and their families with cancer, contact us

 
References
1 Center for Disease Control. Cancer Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/data/index.htm. June 6, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2022.
 
2 Densen P. Challenges and opportunities facing medical education. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2011;122:48-58.
 
3 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers. National Cancer Institute. Find an NCI-Designated Cancer Center - NCI. Accessed Accessed August 16, 2022.
 
4 Rural America at a Glance:2021 Edition. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/102576/eib-230.pdf. Published 2021. Accessed August 16, 2022.
 
5 National Cancer Institute. Data table 3: Reportable patients/paticipation in therapeutic studies. National Institute of Health Web site. https://cancercenters.cancer.gov/DT/DT3. Accessed August 16, 2022.
 
6 McDonald R. Telehealth Use for Cancer Care Surged During COVID-19, But Inequalities Remain. Cure Today. https://www.curetoday.com/view/telehealth-use-for-cancer-care-surged-during-covid-19-but-inequalities-remain. Published May 27, 2022. Accessed August 16, 2022.
 
7 Rural Urban Disparities in Cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://gis.cancer.gov/mapstory/rural-urban/index.html. Published Accessed August 16, 2022.
 
8 Moy E, Garcia MC, Bastian B, et al. Leading Causes of Death in Nonmetropolitan and Metropolitan Areas — United States, 1999–2014. Surveillance Summaries. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/ss/ss6601a1.htm. Published January 13, 2017. Accessed August 16, 2022.

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