As she became president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Lori J. Pierce decided to focus on equity in cancer care as her year-long presidential theme.

“As African Americans, we are acutely aware that for almost every metric, we see a disparate outcome, with Black and brown people doing worse. Cancer is certainly no different,” Pierce, professor of radiation oncology, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs at the University of Michigan, and the first African American to be elected president of ASCO, said in an interview.

“Before the pandemic, before the most recent acts of racism shown on the internet, I picked equity as my presidential theme. And I knew it was a good theme for ASCO, as equity of care is foundational for so much that ASCO does.

“And I also discovered that although equity is fundamental to ASCO’s mission, equity had never formally been a presidential theme. So, I thought, Okay, this is the time. And then, a few months later, the world changed.”

Pierce said the oncology community has recognized the urgency to address social determinants of health care.

“We can have the best cancer therapies that target the certain receptors in these cancers but if patients can’t come in for their treatment because they have no transportation, or they can’t get off of work or they can’t afford to be off of work, then all these therapies will not be of use.”

Pierce spoke with Robert Winn, director of VCU Massey Cancer Center, and a one-month guest editor of The Cancer Letter focusing on coverage of issues related to Black History Month.