Translating the promise of cancer genomics into health equity has not yet become a reality, two experts write in a commentary published recently in Cancer Cell. Instead, the racial gaps in cancer mortality have only slightly narrowed since the human genome was sequenced two decades ago, they note, and in preventable cancers such as breast and colorectal cancer, socioeconomic inequalities in cancer deaths are widening.
DNA data are certainly being used to precisely target cancer and other diseases with treatments developed to block genetic variants that give rise to malignancy. But that remarkable precision depends on the populations whose genetic sequences have been deciphered. For the most part, existing genetic data comes from people of European ancestry.
That imbalance in genomic data is not new. But progress has been slow in moving the needle from 4% to 19% of genetic samples coming from under-represented populations. Olufunmilayo Olopade, an oncologist and cancer geneticist at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, and her colleague Loren Saulsberry, professor of public health sciences, talked with STAT about what the obstacles to progress are and what it would take to bring equity to cancer genomics. The combined interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.