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University of Chicago to address unequal burden of cancer driven by health disparities

A new center at the University of Chicago Medicine will tackle health inequities in cancer, which are expected to increase in the next 25 years as cancer rates climb.

The University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center’s new effort — the Center to Eliminate Cancer Inequity (CinEQUITY) — will work to pioneer transformative research that addresses biological, social and structural factors that adversely affect excluded or marginalized people in the Chicagoland area. The goal is to ultimately create solutions for eliminating disparities that can be implemented by communities, healthcare systems and policymakers.

The launch, announced Friday, Feb. 16, comes five months after the academic health system broke ground on a $815 million project to build Chicago’s first freestanding facility dedicated to cancer care and research. The new pavilion, slated to open in 2027, is designed to dramatically improve cancer patients’ experience, reduce health disparities in underserved communities and accelerate scientific discoveries.

“Unacceptable disparities in cancer prevention and care delivery impede even current best practices from reaching the underserved,” said Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center; Dean for Oncology, Biological Sciences Division; and The AbbVie Foundation Distinguished Service Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

 “CinEQUITY will unite researchers, community leaders, advocates, survivors, policy makers and partners from various sectors to forge innovative pathways toward eliminating barriers to health equity,” Odunsi said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict cancer rates will increase by 49% from 2015 to 2050. On Chicago’s South Side, where UChicago Medicine’s flagship medical campus operates, cancer incidence is expected to climb 12% in the next decade alone. South Side residents are twice as likely to die from cancer as people living in the rest of the country.

By serving as a hub to catalyze research aimed at eliminating cancer inequities, CinEQUITY will provide core resources to partner with community leaders in planning the Center’s research priorities and evaluating progress; support collaboration with community-based organizations to execute projects; train in best practices for conducting community-engaged research; build inclusive research teams; and disseminate research findings to influence policy and practice.

CinEQUITY is pronounced like “see inequity.”

“The mission of CinEQUITY is to codesign solutions with our community that shatter disparities in cancer prevention and care,” said Jasmin Tiro, PhD, MPH, Professor of Public Health Sciences, and the Director of the new Center. “Our guiding vision is of a future where every individual, regardless of background or circumstance, has equitable outcomes when preventing, treating and surviving cancer.” 

Collaboration and contribution from the community will be instrumental in shaping CinEQUITY’s initiatives and driving meaningful change in the fight against cancer disparities. 

“CinEQUITY allows us to deepen and expand our ongoing work in the Cancer Center in addressing cancer disparities at multiple levels —  the delivery of care, research and how we communicate with the public,” said CinEQUITY Co-Director Nita K. Lee, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. “By adding more resources and building on the momentum of existing academic-community partnerships, CinEQUITY will accelerate our progress toward cancer equity.”

The Center recognizes the power differentials between researchers and community leaders, advocates and members. Thus, Center leadership is putting programs in place to support self-reflection, engage multiple voices and embrace life experiences of different groups to ensure a diversity of perspectives.

“We recognize the urgency to address systemic inequities faced by marginalized groups in the Chicagoland area,” Tiro said. “We are resolute in our dedication to foster an environment where every voice is valued, where diversity is not just celebrated but embraced, and where inclusive action is the cornerstone of our work.”

CinEQUITY’s external advisory board includes national leaders in cancer disparities, including Otis W. Brawley, SB’81, MD’85, a renowned cancer disparities researcher and the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. He delivered a keynote speech at the Center’s launch event.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center is celebrating 50 years as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center. NCI-designated Cancer Centers are characterized by scientific excellence and the capability to integrate a diversity of research approaches to focus on cancer prevention and treatment. In addition to the depth and breadth of cancer research, they also are recognized for outstanding care, education and community outreach programs.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center serves residents in a five-county metropolitan area that’s home to 8.1 million people.

UChicago Medicine is one of just two centers in the state and one of 56 in the United States to have earned the NCI’s highest honor as a comprehensive cancer center. The NCI team gave an “outstanding to exceptional” rating to UChicago Medicine during its last site review in August 2023, acknowledging its strengths in basic research, strong translational and clinical research, and impact on community, policy and global health.

CinEQUITY will provide strategic leadership to bring together researchers, healthcare providers and community members to eliminate Chicago’s chronic cancer disparities.

To learn more about CinEQUITY, visit

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