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Cancer Gap Between Whites, Blacks May Be Biological in Part

Disparity remains when treatment, socioeconomic factors are the same, study finds

TUESDAY, July 7 (HealthDay News) -- Even when they get identical medical treatment, black Americans with breast, ovarian and prostate cancer tend to die earlier than patients of other races, a finding that suggests biological or genetic factors may play an important role.

For many years, the disparity in racial survival was attributed to the fact that black cancer patients have less access to quality care, are diagnosed when their cancer is in later stages, and don't receive the same standard of care as white patients.

But this analysis of almost 20,000 patient records from the Southwest Oncology Group's database of 35 clinical trials found no statistical difference in survival based on race for several other cancers -- lung, colon, lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma.

"The good news is that for most common cancers, if you get good treatment, your survival is the same regardless of race. But this is not the case for breast, ovarian and prostate cancers," study author Dr. Kathy Albain, a breast and lung cancer specialist at Loyola University's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center in Maywood, Ill., said in a school news release.

Even with good treatment, black patients with one of these three cancers were more likely to die than patients of other races, ranging from a 61 percent higher risk for ovarian cancer patients to a 21 percent higher risk for prostate cancer patients.

Ruling out quality of care and socioeconomic factors "implicates biology," study co-author Dr. Dawn L. Hershman, of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, said in the news release. "There may be differences in genetic factors by race that alter the metabolism of chemotherapy drugs or that make cancers more resistant or more aggressive."

The study appeared online Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"The elimination of socioeconomic and health-care access disparities must be a priority in the United States. However, [the study] demonstrates that further investigation of race- or ethnicity-associated differences in primary tumor biology is also important," Dr. Lisa Newman, director of the Breast Cancer Center at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, said in the news release.

More information

The U.S. Office of Minority Health has more about black Americans and their health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, July 7, 2009

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