Study Investigates Influence of Race on Receipt of Care for Prostate Cancer

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Black men most likely to benefit from advanced prostate cancer therapies are 11% less likely to receive them than non-Black men. This happens despite apparent equal opportunities in obtaining health-care services, a new study focused on American veterans has shown.

Disparities Exposed

Published by Rude et al in the journal Cancer, the study showed that Black male veterans were slightly (5%) more likely to receive radiation or surgery for prostate cancer than non-Black men and that veterans of all races likely to benefit from such definitive therapy were also 40% more likely to get it compared to those who did not need it.

Led by researchers from NYU Langone Health and Perlmutter Cancer Center, the new analysis showed that, despite these broad advantages in obtaining advanced care, the Black men most likely to benefit from these treatments—such as men with aggressive prostate cancer who were otherwise healthy—were 11% less likely to get them than non-Black men of a similar age and cancer severity.

“Our study suggests, for reasons that remain unclear, that Black men who need treatment may be choosing against the most beneficial prostate cancer therapies (which are often more invasive), or that such ‘high-benefit’ treatments are not being offered to them as aggressively as they are to non-Black patients,” said study co-investigator Joseph E. Ravenell, MD, Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs and Inclusion at NYU Langone.

Our study suggests, for reasons that remain unclear, that Black men who need treatment may be choosing against the most beneficial prostate cancer therapies (which are often more invasive), or that such ‘high-benefit’ treatments are not being offered to them as aggressively as they are to non-Black patients.
— Joseph E. Ravenell, MD

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Dr. Ravenell, an Associate Professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and co-leader of Community Outreach and Engagement at Perlmutter Cancer Center, explained that one possible reason for this treatment disparity is that, as past studies have found, some Black men may have greater fears than non-Black patients about side effects of aggressive therapy, such as the risk of incontinence and erectile dysfunction. These fears, he said, and other underlying reasons related to their expectations of treatment, should be discussed directly with Black patients when treatment options are being considered.

“Our findings strongly indicate that patients and physicians should discuss fears, values, and preferences when considering all of the relevant treatment options for prostate cancer,” said study senior investigator and urologic surgeon Danil V. Makarov, MD, MHS.

“Despite great strides in prostate cancer care over the past few decades, racial disparities in care persist, and there remains a lot to be done to better understand why this is happening and what we can do to finally close the gap,” said Dr. Makarov, who is Associate Professor in the Departments of Urology and Population Health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “At the end of the day, our goal is to offer patients the most appropriate cancer care they need using a culturally sensitive approach."

More Details on the Study

The findings come from an analysis of the medical records of 35,427 men treated for early to moderate prostate cancer at U.S. Veterans’ Health Administration facilities from 2011 to 2017. Most were older than age 60, were married, and had no other serious health issues.

The study also confirmed earlier work that Black men are likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer 2 years earlier than men of other races across all age groups. Black men are also more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive forms of the disease than their non-Black counterparts. Dr. Makarov said more research is needed to determine if any underlying structural or cultural bias is behind this disparity.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) Corporate Data Warehouse and Medicare. Researchers focused on VHA data because it is the nation’s largest provider of cancer care. From these national databases, they identified all men diagnosed with prostate cancer and characterized them by their life expectancy (based on their other medical diagnoses) and the severity of the prostate cancer.

Men in their 50s with aggressive cancer, for example, who had surgery or radiation were deemed to have received “high-benefit” treatment, because it had the greatest impact on their life expectancy. By contrast, much older men with nonaggressive cancers would have been assessed as “low” benefit for aggressive prostate cancer treatments, because these treatments would have had little impact on how long they lived.

The study authors concluded, “Although race does appear to influence the receipt of definitive treatment in the VHA, this relationship varies in the context of the patient's treatment benefit, with Black men receiving less definitive treatment in high-benefit situations. The influence of patient race at high treatment benefit levels invites further investigation into the driving forces behind this persistent disparity in this consequential group.”

Disclosure: Funding support for the study was provided by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant VA IIR15-356, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, The John and Daria Barry Precision Oncology Center of Excellence of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, and The Edward Blank and Sharon Cosloy-Blank Family Foundation. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

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®.