Young Black, Hispanic Patients More Likely to Die from Cancer

Study finds disparities in cancer survival independent of socioeconomic status.

Independent of socioeconomic status, young Hispanic and black cancer patients are more likely to die of their disease than white patients.

A study presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology evaluated data from the National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database to compare the overall rate of death 2 years after cancer diagnosis in the 3 racial groups. Patients with Medicaid or no insurance versus private insurance were also compared.

The increased risk of mortality for Hispanic and black individuals, including those without private insurance, was consistent across different cancer types, such as germ cell tumors, lymphomas, leukemias, and soft tissue sarcomas.

Although the overlap between low socioeconomic status and racial/ethnic minority status contributes to this disparity, it does not account for all of it. In fact, even after researchers adjusted for insurance status and stage of presentation, the mortality rates remained.

The findings suggest that there are other factors for racial disparity besides financial resources.

“This is a starting point,” said analysist Meryl Colton, MS. “Part of an analysis like this is saying, ‘hey, this exists!’ And now the second part is trying to figure out why this is happening. As with many disparities, you have to identify the problem before you can fix it.”

Although further research is needed, Colton believes that 3 factors may contribute to the continued disparity: residual socioeconomic factors could influence diagnoses and care; genetically distinct forms of cancers might cause the diseases to be more dangerous in certain populations; and the medical system may fail to offer equal treatment and diagnosis among different racial/ethnic groups.

“This is a population that shouldn't be getting cancer and it's devastating when they do,” Colton said. “Knowing that a disparity exists allows us to ask questions that can help ensure everyone receives the best possible care.”