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Medical advances and racial/ethnic disparities in cancer survival

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Background: Although advances in early detection and treatment of cancer improve overall population survival, these advances may not benefit all population groups equally and may heighten racial/ethnic differences in survival. Methods: We identified cancer cases in the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results program, who were ages ≥20 years and diagnosed with one invasive cancer in 1995 to 1999 (n = 580,225). We used 5-year relative survival rates to measure the degree to which mortality from each cancer is amenable to medical interventions (amenability index). We used Kaplan-Meier methods and Cox proportional hazards regression to estimate survival differences between each racial/ethnic minority group relative to Whites, by the overall amenability index, and three levels of amenability (nonamenable, partly amenable, and mostly amenable cancers, corresponding to cancers with 5-year relative survival rate <40%, 40-69%, and ≥70%, respectively), adjusting for gender, age, disease stage, and county-level poverty concentration. Results: As amenability increased, racial/ethnic differences in cancer survival increased for African Americans, American Indians/Native Alaskans, and Hispanics relative to Whites. For example, the hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) for African Americans versus Whites from nonamenable, partly amenable, and mostly amenable cancers were 1.05 (1.03-1.07), 1.38 (1.34-1.41), and 1.41 (1.37-1.46), respectively. Asians/Pacific Islanders had similar or longer survival relative to Whites across amenability levels; however, several subgroups experienced increasingly poorer survival with increasing amenability. Conclusions: Cancer survival disparities for most racial/ ethnic minority populations widen as cancers become more amenable to medical interventions. Efforts in developing cancer control measures must be coupled with specific strategies for reducing the expected disparities. Copyright © 2009 American Association for Cancer Research.




Tehranifar, P., Neugut, A. I., Phelan, J. C., Link, B. G., Liao, Y., Desai, M., & Terry, M. B. (2009). Medical advances and racial/ethnic disparities in cancer survival. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, 18(10), 2701–2708.

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