Study finds similar results when blacks and whites get same cancer care

Wednesday, August 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ While blacks facing serious illnesses often do not fare as well as whites due to differences in their medical care, a study shows that when both groups get the same treatment the outcomes are similar.

The study focused on advanced colorectal cancer. Physicians at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston reported their findings in Wednesday's issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

``When you look at national statistics, African-American patients with colon cancer do worse than Caucasians. Although one would assume they ought to do the same, they don't,'' said Dr. Charles S. Fuchs, lead author of the study.

Yet when they get equal access to state-of-the-art oncology care, the outcome is equivalent, he said.

In addition, Fuchs said, the study found blacks generally have fewer treatment-related side effects than whites.

That was unexpected, he said, ``but certainly bolsters the idea that African-Americans should get the same access to chemotherapy as Caucasian Americans.''

Dr. Alan R. Nelson, head of the American Society of Internal Medicine, said the finding that equal treatment results in equal outcomes is ``an important study.''

``It shows that, in my view, we have an obligation to make sure our medical care is color blind,'' he said.

Nelson, who was not part of the research team, was chairman of an Institute of Medicine panel that earlier this year issued a report detailing unequal treatment of minorities in the health care system.

The cancer research team led by Fuchs and Dr. A. David McCollum looked at survival outcomes and toxicity for 344 blacks and 3,036 whites in chemotherapy trials for colorectal cancer.

Five-year disease-free survival was 57 percent for blacks and 58 percent for whites and overall survival was 65 percent for blacks and 66 percent for whites, rates which were considered statistically the same.

The researchers found that during treatment, nausea was reported in 47 percent of blacks and 61 percent of whites; vomiting in 24 percent of blacks and 31 percent of whites and diarrhea in 51 percent of blacks and 75 percent of whites.

On the other hand, 56 percent of blacks experienced anemia compared with 41 percent of whites.

The researchers attributed the different outcomes between blacks and whites in earlier studies to differences in access to high-quality health care. That lack of access results in reduced likelihood of screening, delays in detecting the disease and more advanced disease when treatment begins.