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Postoperative Cancer Surgery Mortality Rates Have Improved, but Gap Still Exists Between Black and White Patients


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Mortality rates after cancer surgery declined for Black as well as White patients during a recent 10-year period, although the mortality gap between the two groups did not narrow, according to new research published by Miranda Lam, MD, MBA, and colleagues in JAMA Network Open.

The findings present a mixed picture for health-care policymakers: Although postsurgical mortality rates have fallen for patients generally, more targeted efforts are needed to reduce the disparities between Black and White patients undergoing such surgery, the study authors reported.

Miranda Lam, MD, MBA

Miranda Lam, MD, MBA

“Black Americans are likely to be diagnosed with more advanced cancer than White [Americans] and, historically, have had higher mortality rates following cancer surgery,” said lead author Dr. Lam, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School. “Hospitals have put a variety of policies in place to improve surgical cancer care over the past 15 years. This study provided an opportunity to gauge the effects of those measures for patients in general and for Blacks and Whites specifically.”

Investigators used national Medicare data to examine the trends in mortality rates for the years 2007 to 2016 in Black and White patients who had undergone surgery for any of nine major types of cancer. Racial group was determined by patients’ self-identification in Medicare documentation. The data covered 870,929 cancer operations in all.

The researchers found that national mortality trends following cancer surgery improved for Black and White patients by 0.12% and 0.14% per year, respectively. Because mortality rates for Blacks were higher to begin with than for Whites, the equal decline in rates for both groups meant the gap between them did not shrink.

“The findings tell us that even though policies designed to improve cancer surgery outcomes are working better for all patients, none of them have been specific enough to close the gap in mortality between Blacks and Whites,” explained Dr. Lam. “It’s possible that part of the gap may be due to upstream and/or downstream issues from the surgery itself, such as late referrals, which may lead to late presentation at the time of surgery, fragmented follow-up after discharge, and limited resources in the community, and that different policies and interventions may be needed to address disparities in cancer surgery.”

Disclosure: 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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