Cancer survival study uncovers wide racial disparities

March 13, 2012, University of Georgia

African Americans in Georgia, especially in rural areas, have drastically poorer survival rates from cancer. These disparities are much larger when compared to national data, according to the findings from a study recently published in the journal Cancer by a team of researchers in the University of Georgia College of Public Health.

Sara Wagner, an assistant research scientist in the department of and in the College of , worked with a team to develop a detailed analysis of new cases (incidence) and deaths (mortality) for Georgia. Existing research, she said, has indicated that African Americans have a higher mortality rate from cancer than other races, and those are even more pronounced in Georgia.

To better understand these disparities, Wagner's team was one of the first to describe racial cancer disparities by calculating mortality-to-incidence ratios, or MIRs, a measure of mortality that adjusts for underlying differences in incidence. By searching through various data from the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Registry and Georgia Vital Records, the group determined that in every cancer site evaluated, African Americans had higher MIRs than whites. Especially large disparities were evident for prostate, cervical and oral cancer among men.

For , the MIR was 1.81 times greater for African Americans than for whites, while the MIR for was 1.51 times higher.

"The results are what we expected, but it was shocking to see how profound some of these disparities were once we began compiling the data," Wagner said. "These drastically large racial disparities in cancer outcomes remain unexplained, which is both intriguing and concerning. Research like this creates more questions, and these are questions that will require additional study as we try to find the right answers."

The study also identified certain regions of the state with consistently higher mortality-to-incidence ratios. East and west central Georgia had the highest MIRs, while lower mortality adjusted for incidence was found near the Atlanta area. Wagner said it was likely that regions with high MIRs also suffered from poor health behavior, inadequate access to quality, affordable care and numerous challenging socio-economic factors.

"It's not surprising, but we tended to find that areas with the worst outcomes were also the ones that were subject to the worst health behaviors, poor clinical care and social and economic disadvantage," she said. "Maybe it's access to health care. Maybe it's the socio-economic situations these people are living in. Maybe there are environmental conditions that are causing these higher rates. It's a very complex issue, and it's clear there are multiple factors influencing these disparities."

Additionally, the findings support the idea that African Americans are diagnosed with more aggressive tumors and often develop cancer at younger ages than whites, which might explain why the racial gap in survival is so large, Wagner said.

From a public health perspective, the results gleaned from Wagner's research could lead to more effective preventive health policies being implemented in areas with higher MIRs, she added.

"Population-specific programs or focused research studies should be considered in areas with higher MIRs," Wagner said. "For example, perhaps we should start thinking about how to prepare some culturally appropriate messages focusing on screening that are targeted to . The goal, of course, is to find the most effective way to reach whatever group is at risk and give them the tools they need to identify all those early warning signs and get the treatment when they need it."

Explore further: Study finds colorectal cancer mortality dropping slower in African Americans

Related Stories

Study finds colorectal cancer mortality dropping slower in African Americans

December 22, 2011
A new study finds that while colorectal cancer mortality rates dropped in the most recent two decades for every stage in both African Americans and whites, the decreases were smaller for African Americans, particularly for ...

Recommended for you

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.