Society of Surgical Oncology Statement on Racism, Diversity and Cancer Care

Release Date: June 9, 2020

As a community of cancer surgeons, we have dedicated our careers to diminishing the death and suffering caused by cancer. Although in recent years there have been great advances in cancer treatment, there remain enormous disparities in care both in the United States and internationally. The burden of cancer disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities and people of lower socioeconomic status across the spectrum of cancer care, beginning with access to screening and early diagnosis, receipt of state-of-the-art treatment, participation in clinical trials, and extending to appropriate palliative care. The net result of these disparities is unnecessary death, a fact that was cruelly brought home to us during the current COVID pandemic. Although the suffering due to COVID has been universal, again people of color have borne the brunt of this disease. While there are a multitude of factors that contribute to disparities in care, the shocking murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, among others, have highlighted the persistence of racism in the United States.

 

The Society of Surgical Oncology condemns racism and violence in all forms. We recognize racism as an underpinning to health disparities, and recent events serve as a clarion call to all of us that there is a need to do more than what we do on a daily basis—provide the best cancer care to individual patients regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

 

The SSO recognizes the importance of diversity in the medical workforce as a strategy to ensure inclusion of the brightest minds and keenest talents among those delivering healthcare to our diverse patient population, and we acknowledge our obligation to address the lack of diversity within the surgical oncology workforce. The SSO Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board is in the midst of assessing the current demographics of our membership and developing a plan to strengthen our Society through support of diversity in our committees as well as in our leadership pipeline. We are also committed to ensuring that all Society activities are inclusive and welcoming to all members. Recent events have made it clear that our efforts thus far have been insufficient.

 

We must join with other oncology organizations to speak with one voice to address the inequalities in cancer care and to denounce the bias which has resulted in these inequalities. We must advocate for and be accountable for diversity and inclusion and social justice throughout the cancer care community, as well as compassionate, high-quality care of all cancer patients. While this advocacy role may be less comfortable to many than writing a paper, conducting a clinical trial, or performing a complex surgical procedure, it is equally necessary. As the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said in 1965, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” These words are no less true in 2020 than they were in 1965 and serve as a call to action for all of us to stand together and fight for equality.

SSO Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board

Monica Morrow, MD, Chair
Deanna Attai, MD
Sanjay Bagaria, MD
Andrea Barrio, MD
David Caba-Molina, MD, MPH, MS
Anees Chagpar, MD, MSc
Callisia Clarke, MD, MS
Sabha Ganai, MD, PhD, MPH
Fabian Johnston, MD
Lisa Newman, MD, MPH
Alliric Willis, MD
Sandra L. Wong, MD, MS, Vice President
and Executive Council Liaison

SSO Executive Committee

James R. Howe, MD
President

Douglas S. Tyler, MD
President-Elect

Sandra L. Wong, MD, MS
Vice President

Kelly K. Hunt, MD
Secretary

Ronald DeMatteo, MD
Treasurer

David L. Bartlett, MD
Immediate Past President

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