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Blacks Less Likely to Get Optimal Lung Cancer Treatment

Disparity in care is as wide today as it was in the early '90s, study says

MONDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- Black patients with lung cancer are less likely than white patients to receive recommended chemotherapy and surgery, a new study finds.

Disparities in lung cancer treatments were as large in 2002 as they were back in the early 1990s, even though there have been efforts to decrease those inequalities in treatment, the study said.

"This study shows what most of the previous research has shown -- that disparities in treatment patterns [still exist] between blacks and whites," said Katherine S. Virgo, director of health services research the American Cancer Society, who was not involved in the study.

The findings were published online April 13 in the journal Cancer.

For the study, Dale Hardy, of the University of Texas School of Public Health, and colleagues collected data on 83,101 people 65 and older with non-small cell lung cancer -- the most common form of lung cancer -- between 1991 and 2002.

The researchers found that blacks with early-stage cancer were 37 percent less likely to receive recommended surgery and 42 percent less likely to receive recommended chemotherapy, compared with whites.

Among patients with later-stage lung cancer, blacks were 57 percent less likely to receive recommended chemotherapy than whites.

The researchers speculated that there may be several reasons for the disparities in care: Blacks are less likely to get an accurate diagnosis and get recommendations for surgery, but blacks are also more likely to decline surgery, the study authors said.

There also may be cultural differences, the researchers said. For example, many blacks distrust the health-care system. Also, blacks tend to rely on prayer and alternative healing and believe that "when your time is up, it is up," the researchers said.

"In addition, blacks are most often seen at county hospitals, which often provide lower quality medical therapy," Hardy's group noted.

"In conclusion, there were substantial disparities in receiving recommended treatments between blacks and whites, and these disparities have been relatively stable during the past 12 years," the study authors wrote. "To reduce disparities in receipt of treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, efforts should focus on providing appropriate quality treatment and educating blacks on the value of having these treatments."

Virgo said disparities in treatment between blacks and whites are common for a number of diseases and conditions. "This is not something that is specific to non-small cell lung cancer," she said.

More information

For more on lung cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Katherine S. Virgo, Ph.D., M.B.A., director, Health Services Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; April 13, 2009, Cancer

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