The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network worked with Congress to sign the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act into law on Jan. 5, 2021. It aims at improving access to clinical trials for communities of color and decreasing health disparities by directing the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study federal policies that directly impact the participation rates of traditionally underrepresented populations in cancer clinical trials nationwide and recommend potential policy changes across federal agencies that will reduce barriers that currently impede patients from diverse backgrounds from enrolling in clinical trials.The legislation is named after Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman from Maryland who died from cervical cancer in 1951 and whose cells were taken without her knowledge or consent during her treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital. They have been used to develop some of modern medicine’s most important breakthroughs, including the development of the polio vaccine and treatments for cancer, HIV/AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease.
For more than 20 years, the American Cancer Society has been funding research addressing cancer health equity and health disparities within the Clinical and Cancer Control Research Program.
- To date, the Society has invested more than $300 million funding 550 grants.
- Initially investigations focused on gathering data to document that health inequities exist
- Studies moved to identifying the multifactorial causes;
- Since 2013, the focus has been on solution-based strategies
- Currently, there are 68 research grants in effect, with a health equity and disparities focus
Progress in Action:
Michael Potter, MD, researcher at UCSF was funded by the American Cancer Society from 2005-2008 and 2009-2013. His work demonstrated the effectiveness of offering home fecal immunochemical tests (FIT) during flu shot clinics serving diverse patients at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.
- Kaiser Permanente Northern California has adopted the FLU-FIT Program as a recommended strategy for all of their facilities
- The FLU-FIT Program was designated as a “Research Tested Intervention Program” by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
- It’s now listed as one of only 10 such programs for colorectal cancer screening on their website
- The American Cancer Society has conducted its own FLU-FIT pilot program in a national sample of community health centers
- The take-home FluFOBT Program is a proven approach to increase colorectal cancer screening rates.