• Cancer

    Mayo Clinic Minute: Closing the gaps in cancer care

2024 could mark a grim milestone in the battle against cancer.

In January, the American Cancer Society announced that, for the first time ever, new cancer cases could exceed the 2 million mark.

a close-up of the word 'Cancer' with a partial definition, styled to look like a dictionary entry

Early detection and the right treatment are among the best weapons to fight cancer.

However, today many people don't have equitable access to cancer care because of systemic barriers and health disparities.

Mayo Clinic is working to change that with strategic initiatives aimed at health equity.

Dr. Rick Bold., a site deputy director with Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, discusses Mayo's commitment to eliminating health disparities and closing the gaps in cancer care.

Watch: The Mayo Clinic Minute

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video pkg (1:10) is in the downloads at the end of this post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

What are health disparities?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health disparities as "a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage."

According to the agency, health disparities also "adversely affect groups of people who have systematically experienced greater obstacles to health based on their racial or ethnic group, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, age, mental health, cognitive, sensory or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, geographic location, or other characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion."

"Native American Indians, African American patients, Hispanic patients — there are differences that can impact health outcomes," says Dr. Bold. "We have a commitment to eliminate those differences across groups so that every patient, regardless where they live or who they are, have the same anticipated outcome from cancer."

"We are here to serve patients. That's our primary mission.
We are committed to the elimination of inequality in all aspects of cancer care

Rick Bold, M.D.
Mayo Clinic comprehensive cancer center

Moving Mayo's care beyond its four walls

Dr. Bold, who is also a surgical oncologist and a specialist in endocrine surgery, says many patients in need of cancer care find themselves geographically isolated.

"Even here in the United States, not everyone has a hospital or even a cancer center within 15 minutes or 30 minutes," says Dr. Bold.

"All of the Mayo hospitals see themselves serving the community around them and elevating access to care by developing partnerships and relationships that takes our outcomes and clinical expertise and pushes it out into the community. This moves our care beyond our four walls," adds Dr. Bold.

prostate cancer surgery in the operating room

Increasing access to cancer screenings

According to the American Cancer Society January report, the risk of dying from cancer has steadily declined in the last 30 years.

However, the report also indicated there has been a rise in diagnoses of six of the 10 most common cancers, including breastprostateendometrial, pancreatickidney and melanoma.

Early detection is critical in the fight against cancer by significantly improving the chances of successful treatment and long-term survival. Dr. Bold says research is underway to develop cancer screening tools that are more convenient and less costly for patients.

"Cancer screening is probably one of the biggest things we have to reduce the burden of cancer in our communities, but not everyone has access to screening," explains Dr. Bold. "How can we make that better and easier for patients? This would really help us close the gap in our health disparities related to cancer detection in its earliest stage, which is where cures happen."

Personalized medicine

Doctors at Mayo Clinic are also working on closing gaps in cancer care with personalized or precision medicine.

Dr. Bold says this approach can help better identify the right treatment for the right patient.

"Let's take breast cancer, for example. Each woman is very different. Understanding why the cancer developed at an individualized level is something that will help us determine better outcomes," says Dr. Bold. "Maybe it's a woman's genes. Maybe it's where she lived. Maybe her environmental history or what she ate."

Proton beam therapy targets and destroys cancer cells with highly advanced precision

Innovation transforming cancer care

Dr. Bold says the intersection of innovative technology and health outcomes is helping eliminate barriers to cancer care.

"Radiation therapy, for example, can last for weeks, even months, which can pose a challenge for patients traveling from rural communities or far from home," says Dr. Bold.

At Mayo Clinic, patients can receive proton beam therapy, a highly advanced cancer treatment that targets cancer cells painlessly and with more precision.

Proton therapy can be a game-changer for many patients because of the benefits it offers over traditional radiation therapy.

"Not everybody has the ability to move or separate themselves from their local environment, family and friends, and leave their home to receive cancer treatment," explains Dr. Bold.

"By using proton beam therapy, we can shorten their treatment time so we are broadening access and making it more convenient for patients to get treatments that are just as good, if not better, but in a way that's minimally disruptive for their lives," he adds.

"The impact of cancer treatment on patients can be disruptive. Technology allows us to offer treatments that are faster, shorter, more efficient and better ultimately for society."

Rick Bold, M.D.

The future of cancer care

Eliminating disparities and barriers to cancer care is part of Mayo Clinic's overall commitment to improving health outcomes by advancing health equity, inclusion and diversity.

"Our goal and hope for the future is eliminating cancer, period, so that it's no longer a disease anybody has to think about. That is our long-term goal." says Dr. Bold.

"In the short term, we would like to achieve equitable cancer care that provides the best outcomes for every patient."