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Black Kidney Cancer Patients Consistently Die Earlier than White Patients

Racial health disparities plague the United States—just look at the rates of kidney cancer survival.

--by Jenara Nerenberg

The Gist

Racial disparities between blacks and whites affect a number of diseases and health outcomes, and cancer is no exception. Research shows that whites with kidney cancer consistently outlive blacks with the same condition, according to a new study appearing in the American Cancer Society's publication, CANCER

Black Americans also have a higher incidence of kidney cancer to begin with, but despite comparable tumor size, surgical treatments, and other patient characteristics, they die sooner than whites, pointing to a host of other factors at play that should be explored in additional studies. Previous research has shown that social support, health literacy, education, and socio-economic status all contribute to racial health disparities—so doctors, individuals, and policy makers have their work cut out for them.

The Expert Take

"We cannot rule out the possibility that other factors not measured in our study—such as obesity, high blood pressure, access to care, and genetic susceptibility—may be contributing to the persistent disparities," said lead author When Wong-Ho Chow, PhD.

And Chow adds that it is difficult to assess the entire scope of the problem in just one study.

"I am unable to comment on practical and policy implications, as we do not have the complete picture on factors (e.g., hypertension control and weight reduction) contributing to the racial disparity in renal cell cancer survival yet," Chow tells Healthline.

The Takeaway

Racial disparities exist between blacks and whites for a number of health problems, and kidney cancer is just one of them, so a person's race should not be discounted when considering his or her overall advantage in terms of health.

The causes of such disparities are largely structural—socioeconomics, job availability, and access to education—so one cannot point to race as the sole deciding factor, but physicians, hospital administrators, community centers, and schools should be aware of the reality. And as such, individuals should be proactive about staying on top of their health and seeking out the best care possible.

Source and Method

National data from 40,000 kidney cancer patients was analyzed and showed a decreased survival rate for blacks as compared to whites. Sixty-eight percent of black patients survived for at least five years after diagnosis, compared with 72.6 percent of white patients. Age, gender, tumor size and stage, tumor subtype, and type of surgical treatment were all taken into account, and the findings were consistent.

Other Research

A 2005 study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) noted the same trend—black patients with breast cancer dying earlier than white patients with the same condition—and concluded that the presence of other diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, helped explain the disparity.

A 2008 study from Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention notes that disparities in cancer survival rates often stem from delayed detection among blacks as compared to whites, and suggests that early detection is critical for reducing cancer survival disparities.

And a 2002 study from the Cancer Journal for Clinicians explains that cancer mortality disparities remain staggering in the United States—pointing to the increasing need for health educators, physicians, and other stakeholders to work together. Authors noted that despite some reduction in disparities over time, "an important trend that is not fully explained is the fact that breast and colon cancer death rates among Whites and Blacks (essentially identical in the 1970s) have grown more disparate every year over the past 20 years," which drives home the magnitude of the problem of growing racial health discrepancies in the U.S.

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Tags: Awareness , Latest Studies & Research , Public Health & Policy

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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.