Racial Differences in Cancer Survival Rates not Related to Poverty or Quality of Care

July 9, 2009

African-Americans are more likely than individuals of other races to die from sex-related cancers, but the difference in mortality rates is not due to poverty or differences in care, researchers at Loyola University Chicago have discovered.

Results of the study, which followed patients for at least 10 years after treatment, show that “African Americans were 49 percent more likely than other races to die from early-stage, postmenopausal breast cancer; 41 percent more likely to die from early stage, premenopausal breast cancer; 61 percent more likely to die from advanced-stage ovarian cancer and 21 percent more likely to die from advanced-stage prostate cancer.” All patients in the study received the same advanced treatments by the same physicians, and the researchers say their results exclude poverty and other socioeconomic factors as the root of the disparities in survival rates.

Interestingly, according to the researchers, no statistically significant association was observed between an individual’s race and his or her survival for lung and colon cancers, leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma. The results show, in addition to the disparities between the survival rates of different races, that survival rates are gender based, and therefore “due to a complex interaction of biologic factors in the tumor and inherited variations in common genes that control metabolism of drugs and hormones,” according to lead author Dr. Kathy Albain, breast and lung cancer specialist, Loyola University Health System's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, and professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine.

The patients followed over the minimum ten-year period included 19,457 adults enrolled in 35 Southwest Oncology Group clinical trials.

"The good news for African Americans is that for most common cancers, they have the same survival rates as all other races," Albain said, adding that the team is now “actively conducting new research based on these findings to explore interactions among tumor biology, treatment, sex, race, inherited genes and survival.”

Findings of the study were also published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.