A large study found Black Americans are more likely to die from colorectal cancer because they are less likely to get life-saving treatments
Chadwick Boseman, the actor who starred in Marvel's Black Panther, died in late August at age 43 after a private 4-year battle with colon cancer.
It has long been known that there is a racial gap in colon cancer mortality rates in the US, with African Americans disproportionately diagnosed at later, hard-to-treat stages. (Chadwick Boseman was diagnosed with stage 3).
Now, a new study on 16,382 patients with colon cancer offers some theories as to why Black Americans are particularly at-risk of dying from the disease, which is largely treatable at stages 1 and 2.
The reasons, the researchers concluded, all stemmed from a systemic lack of access to care.
The researchers from City of Hope National Medical Center in California looked at data from 2000 to 2012 on California patients with colon cancer that spread to their liver, comparing treatments, outcomes, and demographics such as race, age, sex, and concurrent health issues.
They found Black people are 10% less likely overall to have life-saving treatment for colorectal cancer. They're also 17% more likely to die than white peers.
Live-saving treatment is less accessible to Black patients
When Black patients underwent liver surgery to treat the cancer's spread to that organ, they had the same survival rate as white patients.
But the study, published today in JAMA Network Open, found Black patients were least likely to undergo surgery or chemotherapy.
Dr. Lucas Thornblade, City of Hope surgical oncology fellow and first author of the study, said the disparity "could be attributed to factors such as lower rate of referral to cancer specialists, late detection of colorectal cancer metastases and patient-reported barriers, including fear of cancer and its treatment, costs, and the burdens of transportation and childcare during therapy."
Researchers believe that, in part, explains why Black Americans had the lowest median survival length of any group — 11 months, compared to the longest-living group, Middle Eastern patients at 18 months.
"The unfortunate reality is that minorities, especially Black people, have a much lower chance of getting lifesaving cancer treatment. Health care works within a social construct, and to change health disparities, we need social change," Dr. Mustafa Raoof, surgical oncologist at City of Hope and co-author of the study, said in a press release.
Medical racism is an ongoing issue in the US
Healthcare inequality and medical racism are well-documented in America.
For instance, in the current coronavirus pandemic, a large body of evidence has found Black Americans are among the most susceptible to COVID-19.
That's not simply genetics or biology, but the result of complex intersections of discrimination and inequality in employment, housing, stress, and other chronic illnesses as well as reliable access to both preventative care and medical treatment, experts say.
"Opportunity and exposure are not equally distributed, especially by race, in this country," Dr. Camara Jones, an epidemiologist and physician with affiliations at Morehouse, Emory, and Harvard universities, previously told Business Insider.
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