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Our 2020 Health Equity Survey opens Sept. 21

​All volunteers are asked to participate, as one way to help advance our health equity work

The American Cancer Society and ACS CAN work every day to achieve our mission to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. To achieve our mission, it is imperative that we fully address cancer disparities, so that all people have a fair and just opportunity to live a longer, healthier life free from cancer regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live.

To ensure we are strengthening our organization’s collective capacity to advance health equity, we are once again this year asking all volunteers and staff to complete a quick health equity survey. 

This year’s survey, which will be open Monday, Sept. 21, through Monday, Oct.12, will gauge what volunteers and staff know about health equity, what actions they may have taken over the past year to help advance health equity, and what resources they need to increase the integration of health equity into their work. 

A link to the survey, which should only take about 10 minutes to complete, will be offered via another article (not email) on Sept. 21. 

Survey results will be used to help the Society’s Health Equity team ensure we are providing our staff and volunteers with the information, materials, and tools they need to be health equity champions and reduce cancer disparities. 

Though this is the third consecutive year we’ve fielded this survey, all staff and volunteers are encouraged to complete it even if they have completed it before so that our Health Equity team understands current needs and levels of understanding.

  • ACS CAN holds its first virtual Leadership Summit and Lobby Day

    On Sept. 15, more than 700 cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones from all 50 states dialed into calls and logged onto virtual meetings to ask members of Congress to make the fight against cancer a national priority as part of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s (ACS CAN) Leadership Summit and Lobby Day. The advocates represented nearly every congressional district. 

    Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this is the first time ACS CAN hosted its annual Leadership Summit and Lobby Day virtually. It followed the Sept. 12 Lights of Hope Across America virtual event, which replaced the annual Lights of Hope ceremony that usually takes place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The Facebook livestream reached an estimated 27,000 people and to date has been viewed more than 16,000 times.  Watch a replay here

    The hour-long livestream event featured dozens of stunning Lights of Hope displays in every location you could think of – neighborhood parks, front porches, backyards, driveways, windowsills and even iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Times Square. In all, there were 52,000 decorated bags and the event raised more than $720,000. Bristol Myers Squibb was the presenting sponsor. 

    "I was so honored to represent ACS CAN and share my display from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a location of such significant meaning to our country and to this event," said ACS CAN President Lisa Lacasse.

    Here are some key events that took place during the week:

    Sunday, September 13

    ACS CAN recognized hardworking staff and volunteers for their outstanding work in cancer advocacy. See the full list of 2020 advocacy award recipients.

    Tuesday, September 15

    ACS CAN’s Lobby Day began with a kick-off event featuring NCAA Division I basketball coaches Jay Wright of Villanova University and Bill Self of the University of Kansas. The coaches rallied advocates before their virtual meetings and calls with lawmakers. The coaches are members of Coaches vs. Cancer®, a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches™.

    During this year’s Lobby Day, advocates asked their lawmakers to:

    • Increase funding for cancer research and prevention programs with at least $44.7 billion (a $3 billion increase) for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Fiscal Year 2021, including $6.9 billion for cancer research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and $559 million for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) cancer programs
    • Advance the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act. Named after the Black American woman from Baltimore who died of cervical cancer and whose cells cultivated during her treatment have been used to develop some of the most important cancer treatments, the Act would help focus on identifying and removing barriers that prevent underrepresented groups from participating in cancer clinical trials.

    ACS CAN also honored a select group of lawmakers and others who have made exemplary contributions to fight against cancer. The National Distinguished Advocacy Award, ACS CAN’s most prestigious honor, was presented to U.S. Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), as well as Massachusetts State Senator John Keenan and State Representative Danielle Gregoire, and Atlanta City Councilmember Matt Westmoreland. ACS CAN’s Judicial Advocacy Initiative award, which recognizes attorneys who generously donate their services to the cancer fight, was given to Jeffrey B. Dubner of the Democracy Forward Foundation.

    The day concluded with a comedy night for the annual CAN Opener fundraiser. Throughout Leadership Summit and Lobby Day, ACS CAN hosted its annual silent auction online. Proceeds from both the CAN Opener and silent auction help ACS CAN further its advocacy work. 

    Media coverage

    Media coverage for both Lights of Hope and Leadership Summit and Lobby Day has maintained a steady drumbeat over the last few months, ramping up throughout the past week leading up to the events. Regional media advocacy staff have secured more than 100 media clips in outlets across the county, and we expect to see additional letters to the editor and post-event articles appear in volunteers’ local media outlets with reports of their successful week.

  • Staff and volunteer leaders meet with key African American stakeholders

    One of the immediate outcomes from the meeting was that the group decided to stay together as an advisory group and will meet regularly.

    On Sept. 9, our Executive Team and three Board members met virtually with the leaders of 13 national African American organizations to identify ways the Society can contribute to addressing the cancer burden among African American people and have more meaningful engagement with the Black community in the fight against cancer.

    While ACS has had a longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity, our Board and Executive Team are committed to doing more. The primary purpose of this important call was for ACS leaders to listen, as key African American leaders shared opportunities for engaging Black communities in the fight against cancer. ACS provided a diversity and inclusion pre-read document and an overview of our current efforts to reduce disparities, increase health equity, and focus on health equity-related advocacy.

    In addition to our entire Executive Team, the call was attended by Jeff Kean, Board chair; John Alfonso, Board vice chair/incoming Board Chair; Dr. Carmen Guerra; Board scientific officer, Maria Guyette, SVP of Talent Strategy; and Tawana Thomas-Johnson, VP of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the following leaders and organizations:

    • Charles W. Hill, health and wellness chairman, 100 Black Men of America
    • Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Chairman and Reverend Natalie Mitchem, Executive Director, AME Church
    • Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover, International President, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
    • Everett B. Ward, PhD, General President, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
    • Gwainevere Catchings Hess, President, Board of Directors, Black Women’s Agenda
    • Beverly E. Smith, National President and CEO, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority
    • Dr. Michael O. Minor, National Director, NBCUSA H.O.P.E HHS Partnership, National Baptist Convention, USA
    • David Johns, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition
    • Melanie L. Campbell, President and CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
    • Leon McDougle, MD, President, National Medical Association
    • Micheal E. Cristal, International President, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity
    • Kimberly Jeffries Leonard, PhD, National President, The Links, Incorporated and ACS CAN Board member
    • Valerie Hollingsworth Baker, International President, Zeta Phi Beta

  • Sept. 16: Last session in our COVID-19 and Cancer ECHO series for caregivers

    The last of three sessions in our COVID-19 and Cancer ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) for Cancer Caregivers series, is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2 - 3 p.m. ET.

    Pre-registration is required.

    Topics in this session may include advanced symptom management and hard conversations about advanced disease.

    The purpose of these webinars is to share current information about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting cancer patients and high-risk individuals. Experts from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and ACS share strategies and answer questions in a secure, online environment offered at no cost to participants.

    Please review the summaries available on this COVID-19 and Cancer ECHO for Cancer Caregivers page on

  • September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

    ​1 in 389 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer by age 15; learn what ACS is doing to help

    Cancer doesn’t fight fair at any age, but it’s devastating when it occurs in children. Approximately 1 in 389 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer by age 15, and it is the leading cause of death in children and teens ages 1-19 in our nation. An estimated 11,050 children 14 and under will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. during 2020, and 1,190 will die from it. 

    But the future is hopeful. The death rate for cancer in children ages 0-14 years declined by more than half from 1975 (4.9 per 100,000) to 2017 (2.0 per 100,000), largely due to improvements in treatment and high rates of participation in clinical trials. And ACS continues our efforts to attack childhood cancer on all fronts, leveraging our unique strengths in funding the best research, providing information and support for youth with cancer and their families, and working to improve access to care and the quality of life for childhood cancer patients and survivors.

    This September, ACS is utilizing Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to raise funds for pediatric cancer research, including promotion of our #GoldTogether program and St. Baldrick’s partnership, and to raise awareness of the partnerships we have to make an impact on childhood cancer. 

    The #GoldTogether Movement

    #GoldTogether for childhood cancer is a national Relay For Life program that specifically raises funds to support childhood cancer research, support services, and awareness, as well as, cancer prevention efforts. It also increases awareness of childhood cancer, the impact it has on survivors and their families, and available support services. 

    With more than 200 teams, the #GoldTogether movement connects and empowers children and families impacted by cancer. It creates a community within the Relay For Life community where children and families can share their stories and learn more about caregiver resources and new research, treatments, and support services that may positively impact their lives. 

    To date, #GoldTogether has raised $1,000,000 for childhood cancer. New this year is the #GoldTogether Champion Campaign. During the month of September and throughout the year, #GoldTogether Champions will virtually unite to make a greater impact and secure better outcomes for kids with cancer. Champions will utilize their social media to raise awareness and raise funds to support childhood cancer. To support #GoldTogether, become a champion and start or join a team, visit

    ACS and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation 

    ACS and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants, are engaged in a partnership to raise funds that can amplify our impact on childhood cancer and support the most promising research. ACS and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation will work together to fund and manage a grant-making program to invest in the most creative biological and clinical laboratory studies that have the greatest potential to quickly deliver new and improved care for children.

    The goal is to raise $11 million to fund this innovative research. Requests for applications were initiated on July 1, 2020 when the campaign reached the point of $4.1 million raised.  Grants will be funded beginning July 1, 2021. All additional dollars raised in 2020 will go towards the applications that will be funded in 2021. Together we will focus on innovative projects that have the greatest potential to bring novel advances to childhood cancer patients. To learn more, visit

    Partnering to increase pediatric cancer research

    ACS is leading and funding research that helps us better understand childhood cancers and develop effective therapies that do not compromise the quality of life of the child and his or her family during and following treatment. As of March 1, 2020, we are supporting 60 active, multi-year research grants, for a total of $34,000,000 specific to childhood cancer. Learn more about what we’re doing to save lives and prevent suffering from cancer at every age and every stage at

    ACS CAN actively engaged in advancing policy

    ACS CAN supports policies that advance the childhood cancer agenda and seek to improve access to quality care, and plays an important role as convener, bringing the childhood cancer community together to focus on issues that can make the greatest impact.

    ACS CAN is working to advance the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), S. 2080, PCHETA, which will improve palliative care training for health providers, establish a national campaign to educate patients, and expand NIH research to improve the delivery of palliative care. Palliative care is vital to childhood cancer patients, survivors, and their families because it provides an extra layer of support, regardless of the stage of cancer or time since diagnosis, and involves team-based comprehensive care. Expanded access to palliative care will help improve the quality of life for more childhood cancer patients and survivors.  


  • Patient groups go to court to fight expansion of short-term insurance

    ​They challenge a rule change that threatens to leave many people uninsured or underinsured

    Patient groups representing millions of people with serious health conditions submitted an amicus brief on Aug. 31 urging the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to hear the case against a federal rule expanding the availability of short-term limited-duration insurance (STLDI) plans. The request for what’s known as an en banc review comes after a three-judge panel issued a divided ruling in favor of upholding the expansion of these inadequate insurance plans.

    STLDI plans are exempt from having to cover essential health benefits, like prescription drugs and hospitalization, and can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.

    The groups, which include the American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Epilepsy Foundation, Hemophilia Federation of America, March of Dimes, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, argue the rule effectively allows STLDI plans to serve as replacements for comprehensive coverage in violation of current law.

    A statement from the groups follows:

    “The aggressive marketing and continued proliferation of STLDI plans to consumers, especially during a pandemic, threatens to erode the availability and affordability of insurance for millions of people at a time when comprehensive coverage is more important than ever.

    “Allowing plans that are exempt from covering essential services and can deny people coverage based on their health status risks splitting the individual insurance market. It also risks driving younger and healthier people towards subpar plans putting them at grave physical and financial risk. Meanwhile, those who rely on the high-quality coverage provided through the ACA’s marketplaces are forced to pay increasingly unaffordable premiums for the comprehensive coverage they require or forgo insurance entirely.  

    “Considering the potential damage this rule could have on Americans during this public health crisis and well beyond, it is essential that the full appellate Court consider the case and take action to strike down this rule and uphold the critical coverage standards under current law.”

  • Colorectal cancer: Black men have the highest incidence rate

    ​African Americans are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it than other groups

    Following the devastating news of the death of the world's beloved Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, from colorectal cancer, many were left asking why – and how. 

    What most don't know is that Chadwick Boseman sat at the intersection of where colorectal cancer rates are among the highest and rising the fastest. He was a young man. And he was a Black man.

    Colorectal cancer affects far too many in this country and disproportionately impacts the Black community. African Americans are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it than other groups. Black men have the highest incidence rate.

    "Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the country," said Durado Brooks, MD, our vice president of prevention and early detection. "This disease is ravaging the Black community and it is as important as ever that everyone has access to and is receiving the recommended screenings. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, necessary screening tests remain available to prevent the disease or find it at an early, more treatable stage."

    In addition, rates of colorectal cancer in younger age groups is rising. In 2020, 12% of colorectal cancer cases will be diagnosed in people under 50 – about 18,000 cases. Since the mid-1980's adults age 20-39 have experienced the steepest increase in colorectal cancer rates.

    The American Cancer Society recommends that people with average risk begin regular screening at age 45.

    Those with higher risk should consider – with their physician – earlier screening. Higher risk factors include:

    • Family history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
    • Personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
    • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease)
    • Known family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
    • Personal history of radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer

    In addition, anyone with concerning abdominal or gastro-intestinal symptoms such as a change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days; rectal bleeding; blood in the stool; cramping or abdominal pain; weakness and fatigue; or unintended weight loss should consult with their doctor.

    Screening can prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing growth, called polyps, in the colon and rectum before they become cancer. It can also find colorectal cancer early, when it is small, hasn't spread, and may be easier to treat. When found early, before it has spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is 90%.


  • Dr. Len, our deputy chief medical officer, departs after 20 years with ACS

    ​For years, the media turned to our deputy chief medical officer for counsel on cancer issues

    J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, better known as Dr. Len, leaves the Society on Sept. 1 after two decades of explaining cancer issues in easily understood terms to readers of his blog, members of the media, congressional committees, and ACS staff and volunteers.

    Most recently, he was the face of ACS during the COVID-19 pandemic. He and former ACS staffer David Sampson, strategic director, Medical & Science Communications, with whom he worked very closely, did podcasts, tweets, and numerous media interviews about the pandemic and its effect on cancer detection and treatment, and Dr. Len helped guide the decisions about event cancellations, and the closing of ACS offices, Hope Lodge facilities, and Discovery Shops.

    His guidance was always helpful, informative, and often comforting, perhaps because of his warm personality and folksy nature.

    “It has been an incredible journey and I mean that from the heart,” Dr. Len said. “I came to the Society as a medical editor in 2001, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the newly created Cancer Control Science Department. Because I had a wide variety of experience – 19 years of practicing medicine, expertise in policy, legislative, and regulatory issues related to health care, as well as a lot of experience talking to the media – they created the job of deputy chief medical officer for me. I got to use all my skills. There are not many opportunities around that allow someone to do what I have been able to do. It was wonderful, and I will be forever grateful.”

    Dr. Len also served as interim chief medical officer from November 2018 to October 2019, taking over when Otis Brawley, MD, resigned to become the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. 

    Dr. Len looks back with pride on his role in providing the public with cancer information based on evidence. “We were able to create policy and guidance and provide people with as unbiased information as we could. It made me so proud of the Society, and being honest and effective enhanced the American Cancer Society’s reputation,” he said. 

    Dr. Len was sensitive to not wanting to overpromise and tout promising therapies before they were scientifically proven. As a result, Dr. Len’s Blog, which he started writing in 2005, often provided the voice of scientific reason when it came to assessing the latest “cancer cure.” The head of a major cancer organization recently told Dr. Len that she has saved several of his blog posts and reads them regularly to keep her focused on her mission. Journalists, too, expressed appreciation for the information the blog provided.  

    During his time at the Society, Dr. Len has seen huge strides made in the treatment of cancer, as well as falling mortality rates. He cited two “game changers” - Gleevec and Herceptin - two drugs made possible, in part, by ACS-funded research. 

    He remembers well the first reports of Imatinib (Gleevec) being used successfully to treat chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). “I had experience with that disease as a practitioner. Back then it was almost universally fatal. I had a young man whose CML became acute, and he committed suicide because he knew what the outcome would be. That was a devastating phone call,” he said. Today, thanks to tyrosine kinase inhibitors, of which Gleevec is just one, the current 5-year relative survival rate for adults is 69% for CML, up from 22% in the mid-70s.  

    Dr. Len said he also remembers being at an ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) meeting when thousands of oncologists stood up and cheered upon hearing reports of Herceptin's success treating HER2-positive breast cancer. 

    Immunotherapies and targeted drugs also are saving lives from lung cancer and melanoma. “The decline in melanoma deaths year over year has been incredible,” he said, “and reports are coming out right now saying we are making incredible gains in reducing mortality in lung cancer.” This 2019 blog talks about more and more people surviving melanoma, once a sure killer, and this blog talked about how we could achieve similar success with lung cancer. 

    “I am still very concerned about overpromising and under delivering, but I come to this point in my career more optimistic than ever about cancer treatments,” he said, although he was quick to note that COVID-19 “could put a significant dent in our progress.” He said “the research enterprise has been disrupted, some clinical trials have been halted, people are afraid to get screened. We will pay a societal price for what we have seen happening as a result of COVID.” 

    Dr. Len wants his colleagues to know that “this is an incredible organization that does incredible things every day – affecting policy in Washington, creating guidelines, and helping cancer patients and their families. There are so many terrific people in this organization who are so committed. No question, what has kept me here is the recognition of all the efforts and commitment that so many people have to this organization: Staff, volunteers, and donors. To be part of that as a team member was incredibly special on a personal level.” 

    He added: “We are going through difficult times and difficult times require difficult decisions, not only here, but throughout the world. My departure is a consequence of that. Having said that, I am grateful for the experience I have had, and the people I have worked with and had the opportunity to touch. I am moving forward with optimism and we’ll see what the future holds.”

    Good luck, Dr. Len, with the new endeavors you choose to pursue.

  • HPV vaccination rates are up, but Covid threatens to reverse gains

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released some good and bad news in an article titled National, Regional, State, and Selected Local Area Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13–17 Years — United States, 2019.” This report is the national benchmark for vaccination coverage for adolescents aged 13-17 years, including estimates for all states and selected local areas. 

    It shows that in 2019, 71.5% of adolescents in the U.S. received the first dose of HPV vaccine (up 3.5% from 2018), and 54.2% were up to date with the HPV vaccination series (up 3.1% from 2018). 

    American Cancer Society efforts are showing remarkable impact, as well. The 2019 cohort of 56 health systems (261 clinics) collaborating on quality improvement projects saw huge increases in HPV vaccination initiation and completion rates. Average initiation rates across the systems increased 11.3 percentage points from 56.8% to 68.1%. Average completion rates increased 7.2 percentage points from 34.7% to 41.9%. Notably, these systems reach nearly 40,000 13 year olds. 

    Asked about this impressive work, Marcie Fisher-Borne, PhD, VACs program lead and managing director of Interventions and Implementation, said, “ACS field staff continue to prove that our coaching and support with HPV vaccination efforts matter. Our quality improvement projects demonstrate impressive outcomes that are seldom found in the literature in terms of vaccine rate changes. Are we impacting HPV rates around the country that will change the face of HPV cancers for our children? Absolutely! This is a huge success we should be shouting from our rooftops.”

    The CDC data continue to support the Mission: HPV Cancer Free campaign goal of reducing geographic disparities in vaccination. Among adolescents living at or above the poverty level, those living in rural areas had lower coverage for HPV and meningococcal vaccines compared to those in urban areas.   

    Looking ahead to 2020 vaccination coverage, the COVID-19 pandemic now threatens to reverse some of these gains. CDC data show vaccination has slowed in the U.S. this year, with the pandemic causing delays and sharp decreases in the number of adolescents getting their recommended vaccines.  

    When asked for how ACS should contribute to the effort to get vaccination rates back on track, Debbie Saslow, PhD, managing director for HPV & GYN cancers, said, “Across the American Cancer Society, we continue to focus on mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on our mission work. For HPV cancer prevention, our focus is on getting adolescents and parents back on track with their well-visits and recommended vaccinations. We need to be working with public health programs, providers, and parents to encourage vaccination and drive awareness about this urgent public health need.”

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