Health Disparities

Background on Health Disparities

Cancer affects all populations in the U.S. However, some communities bear a disproportionate cancer burden compared with other groups (National Cancer Institute, 2020). Cancer disparities, also called health disparities, are differences in measures like incidence, prevalence, mortality, survival, cancer-related health complications, survivorship, the financial burden of cancer, screening rates, or stage at diagnosis (National Cancer Institute, 2020). Disparities may also be seen when improvements in cancer outcomes are not evenly distributed across all communities. 

While not a panacea, health communication can be an effective tool in reducing health and cancer-related disparities. Individuals with greatest knowledge of cancer risks have better health outcomes than those with less knowledge. Health communication, when tailored and accessible to the audience experiencing the health disparities, can close gaps in knowledge and health outcomes (Viswanath, 2006). 

National Networks

National Networks, funded through CDC’s National Network Approach to Preventing and Controlling Tobacco-related Cancers in Special Populations, support public health program efforts to engage priority populations in reducing tobacco- and cancer- related health disparities. Refer to the National Networks when tailoring messages to specific populations of focus. The National Networks and their respective populations of focus include: 


National Cancer Institute. (2020). Cancer disparities [webpage]. Retrieved from

Viswanath, K. & Emmons, K. M. (2006). Message effects and social determinants of health: Its application to cancer disparities. Journal of Communication, 56, S238-S264.