Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Cancer Treatment

A 2002 report released by the Institute of Medicine concluded that there is “overwhelming evidence” that disparities in cancer treatment exist in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, health disparities can be defined as “differences in the occurrence, frequency, death and burden of diseases and other unfavorable health conditions that exist among specific population groups.”

These population groups include racial and ethnic minorities. Factors that likely contribute to significant differences in cancer health care received by minorities include:

  • Poor access to health care
  • Lack of health insurance
  • Barriers caused by language and literacy
  • Low expectations of results

These factors cumulatively combine to result in poorer overall health for minorities in comparison to other population groups. Additionally minorities are believed to have greater difficulty seeking care and acquiring health insurance than other U.S. citizens.

According to the most recent National Healthcare Disparities Report, created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), minorities are less likely to partake in cancer prevention screening tests. For example, the AHRQ cites that 23 percent of Hispanic women report never undergoing a Pap test. This is in comparison to 17 percent of non-Hispanics.

Further exacerbating health care disparities is a lack of access to health care insurance. While less than 16 percent of white Americans do not have a steady source of health care, African-American and Hispanic figures are cited at 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Treatment is another area where minorities may face unfavorable conditions. In general, underprivileged areas have less access to top-quality care. The AHRQ references the fact that African American patients are more likely to visit a doctor that is not board certified.

Other important facts and statistics gleaned from the AHRQ report include:

  • African-Americans are less likely to survive five years after being diagnosed with cancer than white people
  • African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, and are diagnosed less frequently with the disease
  • African-American men are at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer than any other minority
  • African-Americans are 17 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer than white people
  • Cancer accounts for 20 percent of all deaths for Hispanics living in America
  • Hispanics are twice as likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer than white people