There are well-established disparities in cancer incidence and outcomes by race/ethnicity that result from the interplay between structural, socioeconomic, socio-environmental, behavioural and biological factors. However, large research studies designed to investigate factors contributing to cancer aetiology and progression have mainly focused on populations of European origin. The limitations in clinicopathological and genetic data, as well as the reduced availability of biospecimens from diverse populations, contribute to the knowledge gap and have the potential to widen cancer health disparities. In this review, we summarise reported disparities and associated factors in the United States of America (USA) for the most common cancers (breast, prostate, lung and colon), and for a subset of other cancers that highlight the complexity of disparities (gastric, liver, pancreas and leukaemia). We focus on populations commonly identified and referred to as racial/ethnic minorities in the USA-African Americans/Blacks, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians/other Pacific Islanders and Hispanics/Latinos. We conclude that even though substantial progress has been made in understanding the factors underlying cancer health disparities, marked inequities persist. Additional efforts are needed to include participants from diverse populations in the research of cancer aetiology, biology and treatment. Furthermore, to eliminate cancer health disparities, it will be necessary to facilitate access to, and utilisation of, health services to all individuals, and to address structural inequities, including racism, that disproportionally affect racial/ethnic minorities in the USA.