INTRODUCTION: Reducing cancer disparities is a major public health objective. Disparities often are discussed in terms of either race and ethnicity or socioeconomic status (SES), without examining interactions between these variables. METHODS: Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-18 data, excluding Alaska Native and Louisiana registries, from 2002 to 2008, were used to estimate five-year, cause-specific survival by race/ethnicity and census tract SES. Differences in survival between groups were used to assess absolute disparities. Hazard ratios were examined as a measure of relative disparity. Interactions between race/ethnicity and neighborhood SES were evaluated using proportional hazard models. RESULTS: Survival increased with higher SES for all racial/ethnic groups and generally was higher among non-Hispanic white and Asian/Pacific Islander (API) than non-Hispanic black and Hispanic cases. Absolute disparity in breast cancer survival among non-Hispanic black vs non-Hispanic white cases was slightly larger in low-SES areas than in high-SES areas (7.1% and 6.8%, respectively). In contrast, after adjusting for stage, age, and treatment, risk of mortality among non-Hispanic black cases compared with non-Hispanic white cases was 21% higher in low-SES areas and 64% higher in high-SES areas. Similarly, patterns of absolute and relative disparity compared with non-Hispanic whites differed by SES for Hispanic breast cancer, non-Hispanic black colorectal cancer, and prostate cancer cases. Statistically significant interactions existed between race/ethnicity and SES for colorectal and female breast cancers. DISCUSSION: In health disparities research, both relative and absolute measures provide context. A better understanding of the interactions between race/ethnicity and SES may be useful in directing screening and treatment resources toward at-risk populations.
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