Achieving health equity is a universal goal that at times can feel unattainable. Disparities in health care and particularly cancer are multifactorial and require significant time, research, and hard work to make effective change. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to “attain his or her full health potential” and no one is “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”1 For cancer, the NCCDPHP indicates equity is achieved when everyone has an equal opportunity to prevent cancer, find it early, and get proper treatment and follow-up after treatment is completed.2 So where to begin?
I was recently reminded that one of the best ways to make immediate, effective change is to work on things within our control. As physical therapists and physical therapy assistants, we have several tools at our disposal to influence equity including, but not limited to, education, access, and exercise. Evidence points to exercise as an effective and important intervention to reduce the risk of cancer and improve treatment outcomes and quality of life.3 Finding ways to increase access to our expertise as exercise specialists is one pathway we as individuals and a larger collective can directly influence eliminating health care disparities in the prevention and treatment of cancer. We can easily introduce creative, feasible ways to exercise to the public at large by participating in community wellness initiatives, online offerings, advocacy through letters, and meetings within the medical community and government. It is up to all of us to find ways to prioritize health equity into our daily practice.
As an individual, I challenge myself every day to do what I can to move the needle closer to equity. This is our responsibility—from clinicians to researchers—we must address ongoing inequalities so that all individuals have equitable access to our care.
Laura Sheridan, PT, DPT, CLT
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health equity. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/healthequity/index.htm
. Published March 3, 2022. Accessed November 1, 2022.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Equity in cancer prevention and control. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/health-equity/equity.htm
. Published December 16, 2021. Accessed November 1, 2022.
3. Patel AV, Friedenreich CM, Moore SC, et al. American College of Sports Medicine roundtable report on physical activity, sedentary behavior, and cancer prevention and control. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(11):2391–2402.