In an opinion piece for Fox News, Lasker President Dr. Claire Pomeroy discusses how addressing social determinants of health should be a central tenet of successful oncology.

doctor taking blood pressureThe year was 1967, and Dr. Harold Freeman had just arrived at Harlem Hospital for his first job. He had learned the latest techniques during his surgery residency at Howard University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSK). But now in Harlem, he was devastated to discover that most of his patients had disease that was too far advanced for surgical cure.

His patients — mostly poor, African American women with breast cancer — had only a 39 percent survival rate, as compared to the usual 75 percent. Freeman recalled, “I was really raring to go out and do what I could … but then I’m facing late-stage cancer that is too late for me to be effective technically.”

Freeman realized that many of his patients were “more worried about the pain of lack of food, clothing, and shelter, and the pain of violent crime than about the painless lump in their breast.” He knew that these issues — now called the social determinants of health — had to be addressed.