The summer of 2021 Editor's Message, “Why We Can't Wait,” highlighted health disparities that the COVID-19 pandemic only increased. We called on clinicians to advocate for health equity and for researchers to investigate the effect of health disparities in rehabilitation. Rehabilitation Oncology announced a call for papers for a special issue in 2023 focusing on health disparities in cancer rehabilitation and sought original research examining gaps in access, quality, and affordability of rehabilitation as well as the effect of disparities on disability.
It is now 2023. We may have emerged from the strict confines of the pandemic; we may be emerging from our stay-at-home lives and have moved toward full participation in society. We may be going to work and seeing patients in person, enjoying dinner out with our friends and families, and we might be thinking the pandemic is retreating in the distance. But this retreat is not enjoyed equally by all. It is not true for those still unable to access care or only can access care of lesser quality or quantity. Health disparities persist despite the attention brought by the pandemic.
Although we had hoped to provide our readership with a special issue that focused on this critical issue, our call for papers was met with a feeble response. The Rehabilitation Oncology Editorial Board met to discuss why this may have happened. The reasons likely vary—from inability to access data to burnout (unable to deliver a manuscript within the time frame required). While some may have wished to contribute, busy schedules that have only seemed to continue and intensify post–COVID-19 did not allow some to be able to prioritize the importance of this solicitation. But ultimately, we believe the reason we cannot deliver for our clinician community is because there is a relative dearth of research focused on health disparities in cancer rehabilitation.
Given the statistics—nearly 2 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, more than 18 million are surviving cancer,1 and documented evidence that survival rates and quality of life are lower in underrepresented minority groups2—one wonders why is this? There is a bit of shame as well. We can and should be doing more and doing better. Burnout is real. Competing priorities are real. But ultimately, to those in underrepresented groups receiving a different care experience, it does not matter. Our profession is not stepping up to meet the needs of those in our community and we must do better.
Please read the 3 pieces in this issue that do provide insight into health disparities—from our guest Letter to the Editor about the cancer experience to a systematic review focused on the disparities among the frail elderly persons with cancer when addressing pain, and an excellent perspective providing an example model of how to address disparities at the local community level. Clinicians, ask yourselves what you can do. Researchers, find ways to investigate barriers to care so that our profession can find ways to dismantle them.
All of us have a responsibility to address this critical issue.
1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2023. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2023.
2. Cancer Statistics, Reports on Cancer, Cancer Stat Facts: Cancer Disparities. SEER—Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/disparities.html
. Accessed February 27, 2023.