Cancer Doesn't See Color, but the Pipeline Does

Today is #ProliferatingthePipeline, the third day of #BlackinCancerWeek.

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Today is #ProliferatingthePipeline, the third day of #BlackinCancerWeek. The STEM pipeline is the educational pathway for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There isn't currently a consensus on the start and end of the STEM pipeline, but it is often considered to begin in early education and extend to a career in STEM. For this day, we will be highlighting the education, training, and workforce pipeline by hearing from a panel of speakers about different careers that one can pursue in and around cancer. Our panel has representation from academia, industry, policy, and K-12 outreach and each panelist will speak about both their current work and their experiences being Black in the cancer pipeline.                                                                                                                                                          

According to the inaugural AACR Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2020: Achieving the Bold Vision of Health Equity for Racial and Ethnic Minorities and Other Underserved Populations, 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. Further, racial and ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented in the clinical trials that lay the groundwork for new innovations in cancer treatment, and understanding of how cancer develops in racial and ethnic minorities is significantly lacking. We will discuss this further on Thursday during #SpreadingTheWord, our cancer disparities day.

Given that Black people are at the forefront of cancer diagnoses and deaths across various types of cancer and that many innovations in cancer medicine would have been impossible without the voluntary and involuntary contributions of Black people, it is only appropriate that we are given fair opportunities to lead innovations in cancer research, prevention, and treatment. Our approach to improving cancer research and treatment must be as diverse as the multifaceted nature of the causes of health disparities among Black people. This is not currently the case, as Black people are underrepresented in K-12 education, higher education, and the workforce. Many people of color are pushed out of STEM for a variety of reasons in the K-12 education system, but because a career in cancer research or oncology requires a minimum of a Bachelor's degree, this presents an opportunity to track our numbers at at least one crucial inflection point in the education and training pipeline. That tracking effort, however, must also extend to the workforce, where Black people continue to be underrepresented across sectors related to cancer research and advocacy, but specifically amongst senior leadership. 

We are taking this day to call for an expansion of the current efforts to track and understand the experiences of Black people in and around cancer research so that we can truly proliferate within the pipeline and work our way to representation that is reflective of the contributions and sacrifices of our ancestors to cancer research and treatment. We deserve the chance to be not only present, but fully supported as we bring our identities, lived experiences, and innovative ideas to the table to fight an enemy (cancer) that may not see color, but definitely affects our community down ancestral lines.

#BlackinCancerWeek is October 11-17, 2020. Learn more at https://blackincancer.com.

Kilan C. Ashad-Bishop

Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Miami School of Education and Human Development

I am a biomedical scientist and advocate for inclusion who has carved my niche at the intersection of science, health, and social change. I am a proud alumna of Morgan State University, where I earned my Bachelor of Science in Biology, and the University of Miami, where I earned my Ph.D. in Cancer Biology. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development and the Director of College Access for Breakthrough Miami. My professional experience spans academic research, policy, and the nonprofit and private sectors, but my goal remains to improve the health and well being of communities of color.

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