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Study Explores Racial Disparities Among Patients Undergoing Gastrointestinal Cancer Surgery


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Black adult patients are more likely than White patients to receive substandard gastrointestinal cancer surgery, according to a large study led by researchers at Yale Cancer Center published by Bakkila et al in JAMA Network Open.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light previously reported race disparities in the health-care system, and our study unfortunately highlights patients with cancer are not immune to these disparities,” said senior study author Sajid A. Khan, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery (Oncology) and Section Chief of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary and Mixed Tumors at Yale Cancer Center. “Lapses in the health-care system by medical providers and hospital systems contribute to these racial differences and changes are needed to address and eradicate root causes of disparities in the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers.”

According to the American Cancer Society, gastrointestinal cancers account for 35% of cancer deaths. For the new study, researchers wanted to examine whether race-specific treatment disparities exist with curative-intent surgery for these patients across the United States.

KEY POINTS

  • Compared to White patients, Black patients had lower rates of negative surgical margins, and this was most pronounced for surgeries of the esophagus, rectum, and bile duct.
  • Black patients had an adequate numbers of lymph nodes removed less frequently than White patients, with the greatest disparities seen in surgeries of the small intestine, esophagus, colon, pancreas, and rectosigmoid.
  • Black patients were also 68% more likely to not receive recommended chemotherapy and 118% more likely to not receive recommended radiation therapy than White patients after surgery for unknown reasons.

Study Details and Findings

For the study, scientists examined a cohort of 565,124 adult patients with gastrointestinal cancer undergoing surgery between 2004 and 2017. They found that compared to White patients, Black patients had lower rates of negative surgical margins, and this was most pronounced for surgeries of the esophagus, rectum, and bile duct (lower likelihood of negative resection margins = 29%, 29%, and 25%, respectively). They also found that Black patients had an adequate numbers of lymph nodes removed less frequently than White patients, with the greatest disparities seen in surgeries of the small intestine, esophagus, colon, pancreas, and rectosigmoid (lower likelihood of adequate lymph node removal = 29%, 28%, 11%, 10%, and 10%, respectfully). Negative surgical margins and adequate lymphadenectomies are both standards of cancer surgery care and were associated with longer median survival (87.3 vs 22.9 months and 80.7 vs 57.6 months, respectfully). Black patients were also 68% more likely to not receive recommended chemotherapy and 118% more likely to not receive recommended radiation therapy than White patients after surgery for unknown reasons.

In addition, the authors found that American Indians experienced these disparities as well, with an 11% lower likelihood of negative resection margins and 23% lower likelihood of adequate lymph nodes removed compared to White patients.

“Further research should probe both system- and physician-level drivers of disparities within cancer care and address places of bias that allow for this inequitable treatment of [Black] and American Indian patients,” said Dr. Khan. “We are currently performing a deeper look into our striking study findings, and our areas of focus are means of communication, education, socioeconomic factors, health-care system workflows, and differences in cancer biology which exist by race and ethnicity.”

Disclosure: Funding for the study was provided by a research scholar grant from the American Cancer Society and grants from the National Institutes of Health. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit jamanetwork.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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