Massey Challenges Virginia to Stand Against Health Disparities

Toward a Healthier Virginia for All

This article is the first part of an ongoing series of stories highlighting VCU Health programs and initiatives aimed at addressing issues of access and equity in healthcare.


During October, VCU Massey Cancer Center is asking Virginians to make a bold commitment to help address health disparities in cancer. The facts are staggering. African American women are 42 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, and African American men are 50 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer than white men.

Ending disparities like these will require awareness and, most importantly, action. This is why Massey launched its 25 for 25 Health Equity & Justice on October 1. The effort is a 25-day awareness campaign that challenges our community to pledge $25 in support of Massey’s efforts to reduce cancer disparities in Central Virginia by 2025.

“Our goal is ambitious, but it needs to be,” says Robert Winn, M.D., Massey’s director. Dr. Winn is a pulmonologist and cancer disparities researcher who has dedicated his career to addressing inequities in the healthcare system. Also, at present, he is the only African American director of a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the country. “Massey serves a diverse urban and rural population that has been significantly impacted by health disparities,” Dr. Winn said. “We must do all that we can to ensure everyone has access to the best cancer care possible regardless of their race, ZIP code or bank statement.”

Massey Cancer Center has been and will continue to be a leader in addressing cancer health disparities. The public is invited to help Massey raise awareness of health inequities in our communities by following Team Massey on Facebook and sharing daily facts about health disparities in Virginia and how Massey is working to address them. There will also be opportunities to engage with Massey experts through virtual educational events and to help Massey raise at least $100,000 to support local cancer equity research and interventions. To pledge support or sign up for daily emails featuring videos and event opportunities, visit the 25 for 25 Health Equity and Justice website.

“There are many factors that contribute to cancer and health disparities, so our approach to solving these problems must be multifaceted,” says Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for community outreach engagement and health disparities research, and the Theresa A. Thomas Memorial Foundation Chair in Cancer Prevention and Control at Massey Cancer Center as well as professor and chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at VCU. “We must increase access to healthcare and screening resources and improve early detection efforts in underserved communities, but we also must increase diversity among healthcare workers, researchers and educators to better reflect the communities they serve.”

Recently, the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) released its inaugural Cancer Disparities Progress Report. Dr. Winn served on the AACR Steering Committee that contributed to the report, which highlighted the need for increased, sustainable funding for organizations and programs tasked with reducing health disparities, increasing diversity in clinical research and prioritizing cancer control initiatives, among other measures.

“These are the challenges that 25 for 25 Health Equity & Justice will help fund,” Dr. Winn said. “As Virginia’s cancer center, we’re asking for Virginians to support one another and tackle these systemic issues that continue to hurt the lives and livelihoods of their fellow citizens.”

25 for 25 Health Equity & Justice is presented by Apex Systems, Inc. Participants are encouraged to sign up on the campaign website to create a fundraising page that they can share with their friends and family. All proceeds from the campaign will fund Massey’s efforts to eliminate health disparities in Virginia.

If you would like to learn more about the 25 for 25 Campaign, contact the Massey Development Office at 804-828-1450.