Blacks With Equal Care Still More Likely To Die Of Some Cancers

"African Americans are less likely than whites to survive breast, prostate and ovarian cancer even when they receive equal treatment, according to a large study that offers provocative evidence that biological factors play a role in at least some racial disparities," the Washington Post reports. "The first-of-its-kind study, involving nearly 20,000 cancer patients nationwide, found that the gap in survival between blacks and whites disappeared for lung, colon and several other cancers when they received identical care as part of federally funded clinical trials. But disparities persisted for prostate, breast and ovarian cancer, suggesting that other factors must be playing a role in the tendency of blacks to fare more poorly." For decades, studies have indicated that health disparities were "largely the result of poor people and minorities getting inferior care; they are less likely to have health insurance and receive routine preventive care, they frequently get diagnosed later, and they often undergo less aggressive treatment once they are diagnosed." Lisa A. Newman, a researcher at the University of Michigan, calls the new study a "landmark analysis" that suggests "there seems to be something associated with racial and ethnic identity that seems to confer a worse survival rate for African Americans. I think it's likely to be hereditary and genetic factors."

But "some experts cautioned that the study could not rule out the effects of socioeconomic and environmental factors earlier in life, and expressed worry that the findings could reinforce old prejudices. 'When I hear scientists talking about racial differences, I worry that it starts to harken back to arguments about genetic inferiority,' said Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society and an African American" (Stein, 7/8).

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