A new study finds a significant racial disparity in breast cancer treatment: Black women are less likely than their white counterparts to receive radiation therapy after a lumpectomy.
The therapy is considered the standard of care for the treatment of breast cancer that is caught in the early stages.
The study, published in the Dec. 14 issue of the journal Cancer, is based on a review of medical records of more than 37,000 women who were treated through Medicare. They were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2003.
“Although there have been smaller studies of racial disparities in breast cancer care, no prior research has examined the differences across the nation in the rates of radiation therapy after lumpectomy between whites and blacks,” study first author Dr. Grace Li Smith, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s department of radiation, said in a university news release. “The national Medicare database, because it’s so comprehensive, allowed us to determine the extent to which racial disparities in radiation therapy affected patients across the country.”
The researchers looked at women aged 66 and older and found that 74 percent of the white women received radiation therapy after undergoing lumpectomy, while the percentage was 65 percent in black women.
“Until further research is conducted, we may only speculate about the underlying reasons why black and white women are not receiving radiation at the same rate,” Smith said. “We don’t know if fewer black women are receiving radiation simply because it is not offered to them, because they decline the treatment, or perhaps because they are unable to complete a whole course of treatment due to other health problems.”
University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, news release, Dec. 14, 2009