Equal access to the most effective drugs helps eliminate the survival disparity between Black and white lung cancer patients in the United States, a new study shows.
In general, Black lung cancer patients are more likely to die than white patients, but these findings suggest that barriers to care are the main cause of racial disparities in lung cancer survival rates, the researchers said.
They used the National Cancer Database to analyze outcomes among more than 3,000 patients who were diagnosed with advanced lung cancer between 2015 and 2016 and received immunotherapy.
The death rate among Black patients was 15% lower than for whites, according to the study presented recently at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting.
"It is quite clear that if people have access to treatment, they have better survival," said study leader Tomi Akinyemiju, an associate professor in Duke University's Department of Population Health Sciences.
"The question that follows is why are some not accessing health care? It's not just about having insurance, which does help people afford treatment, but there are other important factors getting in the way," she said in a university news release.
Six in 10 of the patients in the study had government insurance, and nearly one-third lived in zip codes with the highest incomes. But only 16% of Black patients lived in the highest income areas.
Black patients in the study were more likely to be younger at diagnosis and to be treated at an academic cancer facility, factors which could be associated with improved outcomes, according to the researchers.
Median time from diagnosis to death was 9.13 months for white patients and 9.49 months for Black patients.
"Our study demonstrates that if we could wave a magic wand so that everyone receives the best treatment, we would see racial disparities in lung cancer outcomes eliminated," Akinyemiju said. "Black patients do well after immunotherapy, so that makes our original question more urgent: Why are they less likely to receive immunotherapy and how do we design interventions to address those barriers?"
Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Cancer Society has more on lung cancer.
SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Oct. 6, 2021