Cancer Health Disparities

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is dedicated to serving the needs of everyone in the state, including in our rural and medically underserved areas. Part of the mission extends to addressing health disparities in our state.

Health disparities are defined as the inequalities that occur in the provision of health care and access to health care across different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Addressing these disparities is vital in reducing the overall cancer burden in South Carolina, improving cancer outcomes, and increasing the quality of life for cancer survivors in these vulnerable populations.

MUSC has a long history of addressing health disparities as a key part of its vision. With leading national experts in cancer health disparities, Hollings is part of setting new standards of care and treatment.

graphic showing the factors that contribute to U.S. cancer health disparities

Addressing the need

South Carolina map showing Hollings outreach, screening, and oncology locations across the state along with the number of patients from each county
  • Hollings patients come from every county in South Carolina.
  • 75% of South Carolina's counties include rural areas. Potential barriers to care for rural residents include transportation issues, distance to specialty care sites, and access to clinical trials.
  • The Hollings Mobile Health Unit provides services in 30 counties across the state.
  • The Sea Island population is uniquely positioned to allow genetic studies of complex diseases such as hormone-related cancer.
  • South Carolina has a much higher percentage of black Americans than the average U.S. state, with black residents accounting for 27.1% of all state residents. Black people have the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial or ethnic group for most cancers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.
  • More than 15% of South Carolinians fall below the poverty level, which is higher than the national average. Poverty is associated with worse cancer outcomes and a higher risk of death.

Leading experts

Many Hollings researchers and clinicians are leading the charge to address cancer health disparities. Among them are Marvella Ford, Ph.D., and Chanita Hughes-Halbert, Ph.D., in our Cancer Control program.

Marvella Ford, Ph.D.

Marvella Ford standing inside office building in sunlight

Dr. Ford contributed to a health disparities volume that curates the latest in best practices in addressing these issues. The professor of public health sciences and associate director of population sciences and cancer disparities at Hollings says the volume brings together a spectrum of research from the basic sciences to the population sciences to address cancer health equity.

Ford also is the SmartState Endowed Chair of Cancer Health Equity Research at South Carolina State University (SCSU), where Hollings has formed SC CADRE, a partnership between MUSC and SCSU that aims to create a future generation of cancer researchers specially trained to improve cancer health outcomes for South Carolinians.

Chanita Hughes-Halbert, Ph.D.

Dr. Chanita Hughes-Halbert

Dr. Hughes-Halbert contributed to the American Association for Cancer Research’s (AACR) 2020 inaugural Cancer Disparities Progress Report: Achieving the Bold Vision of Health Equity for Racial and Ethnic Minorities and Other Underserved Populations. Not only did she contribute to this first-of-its-kind report as a member of the steering committee, but she was part of the virtual congressional briefing that unveiled the report to the nation.

Hughes-Halbert, who holds the AT&T Distinguished Endowed Chair for Cancer Equity at Hollings, said the cancer center works to prioritize initiatives in cancer control to enable our state’s residents to live healthy lifestyles in healthy communities and ensure that all patients receive the right care at the right time.

Among the findings of the AACR report were:

  • African Americans have had the highest overall cancer death rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States for more than four decades.
  • Complex and interrelated factors contribute to cancer health disparities in the United States. Adverse differences in many, if not all, of these factors are directly influenced by structural and systemic racism.
  • Experts predict that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate existing cancer health disparities as a result of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved populations.

Check out the full report for details on all of the findings.

Statewide Initiatives

Hollings has many statewide initiatives to address health disparities.

Education & Awareness Programs

Hollings offers a wide variety of community-based educational programs for the public and disparities-related research for students interested in pursuing a career in cancer research.

Geographic Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program

This national program is designed to advance cancer health equity research and training through collaboration, resource sharing, and capacity building among researchers, trainees, outreach workers, and organizations.

Minority/Underserved National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP)

MUSC is one of only 14 NCORP sites in the country devoted to serving minority and underserved populations. The goal of this program is to bring cancer clinical trials to individuals in their own communities.

South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center

The South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center (SC CADRE), a partnership between South Carolina State University and MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, aims to create a future generation of cancer researchers specially trained to improve cancer health outcomes for South Carolinians.

South Carolina Cancer Health Equity Consortium

This hands-on laboratory research training platform aims to create a future generation of cancer researchers specially trained to improve cancer health outcomes for South Carolinians with an emphasis on cancer disparity dynamics.

South Carolina Continuing Umbrella of Research Experience

This two-year program taught by Hollings scientists allows underrepresented high school students to explore a career in biomedical cancer research and is designed to stimulate students’ interest in cancer health disparities.

Cancer Health Disparities Research

At Hollings, we recognize that our center serves a complex and diverse ethnic, sociocultural, socioeconomic, and geographic area. The center continues to focus on expanding and developing new research expertise to address the state’s specific cancer burden across all cancer types. Learn more about our cancer health disparities research initiatives.