Cancer Disparities

 By Laura Riley, Esq.

Laura Riley is a Staff Attorney at the Cancer Legal Resource Center, a joint program of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School. Ms. Riley graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University with a B.A. in English, where she completed a Guggenheim Fellowship and was a Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellow. Upon graduation, Ms. Riley worked in public relations at Time Inc. for three years before heading to the west coast

Ms. Riley attended USC Gould School of Law, where she was President of the Public Interest Law Foundation and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Public Interest Law Journal. She comes to CLRC after working for Judge Patrick Robinson, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Ms. Riley currently serves on the pro bono committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and continues to volunteer in the community.



The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Minority Health named April 2011 as National Minority Health Month.  The Office of Minority Health has many initiatives that work to fulfill its mission of “improving the health of racial and ethnic minority populations through the development of health policies and programs that will help eliminate health disparities,”[1] including commissioning research on health disparities that encompass how breast cancer and its treatment vary among  different racial and ethnic populations.  This work continues to be necessary considering the existing disparities in diagnosis and care in minority populations in the U.S.



What are cancer-related health disparities?  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines them “as adverse differences in cancer incidence (new cases), cancer prevalence (all existing cases), cancer death (mortality), cancer survivorship, and burden of cancer or related health conditions that exist among specific population groups in the United States.”[2]

There are many breast cancer health disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. at the diagnosis and treatment stages, and beyond.  For example, NCI explains that while white women have the highest incidence rate for breast cancer, African American women are most likely to die from the disease.  In fact, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS), African Americans are more likely to die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic population.[3]

For Hispanic women, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis.  Additionally, ACS notes that it is more frequently diagnosed at a later stage in Hispanic women than in non-Hispanics; Hispanic women are almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with stage IV disease.  In the cases that Hispanic women are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, one in four Hispanic women fails to receive necessary adjuvant therapy, according to researchers at NYC’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine.  Hispanic women are also about twice as likely to develop estrogen-negative cancer, which is harder to treat.[4]

Another key statistic from ACS cancer disparities research shows that American Indian and Alaska Native women in all regions of the U.S. are less likely than white women to be diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer.

The Cancer Legal Resource Center, a national, joint program of the Disability Rights Legal Center  is dedicated to helping underserved individuals with cancer by providing free information and resources on cancer-related legal issues, including employment and taking time off work, financial assistance and management, accessing government benefits, health care, and insurance.  Even after receiving treatment, many people may find themselves faced with problems such as losing their jobs, their homes, or insurance coverage. These issues do not discriminate based on geography or ethnicity. The CLRC helps to address cancer-related health disparities by educating underserved individuals about their options for accessing health care and health insurance coverage and their rights to take time off work to access health care.


To learn more about National Minority Health Month, and breast cancer health disparities, visit:

For additional information about the CLRC, cancer-related legal issues, and educational materials in English and Spanish:

(866) 843-2572



Center for Research on Minority Health’s 9th Annual Disparities in Health in the Global Context
June 20-25, 2011, at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX
For additional information:

American Association for Cancer Research’s Fourth AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved
September 18-21, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
For additional information:–workshops/cancer-health-disparities.aspx

Cancer Legal Resource Center’s 2011 Cancer Rights Conferences

June 24, 2011, in Chicago, IL

September 23, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

October 21, 2011, in Ann Arbor, MI

For additional information:

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