Cancer is a deadly and devastating disease, and it can be difficult to treat and survive no matter who you are. However, if you’re Black, your chances of death are much higher.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cancer death rate for African-Americans is 25 percent higher than whites. Plus, Latinos are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a later more dangerous stage.
For black and brown Kids, those disparities show in the rate of death as well and they are more likely to succumb to cancer than their white counterparts. Epidemiologist Rebecca Kehm told NPR that the answer to this doesn’t just lie in race, but also in socioeconomic status.
“We know that there are socioeconomic differences that are closely tied to race ethnicity,” says Kehm. “I wanted to show that there are other factors at play than the genetic component.”
Persistent racism and institutional bias mean that black and non-white Latinos are much more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty. Kehm, along with researchers at the University of Minnesota, looked at data on nearly 32,000 childhood cancer patients from the National Institutes of Health’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER), a database of cancer statistics compiled from 19 geographic areas throughout the United States between 2000 and 2012.
The study showed what most researchers already knew: Race affects a child’s likelihood of survival. Black children were between 38 and 95 percent more likely to die of the nine cancers studied while Hispanic children were between 31 and 65 percent more likely to die.
As for the effect poverty has, socioeconomic status seemed to explain those racial differences for several cancers, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, neuroblastoma, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
The study shows, for example, a black child who gets acute lymphoblastic leukemia is 43 percent more likely to die than a white child with the same cancer. Overall, socioeconomic status explained 44 percent of the disparity between black and white children. It also explained disparities for Hispanic children.
Kehm told NPR that simply finding these disparities is not enough. She and other scientists feel that more needs to be done to address the root of the issue.
“It’s not enough to simply do studies,” Kehm said. “We need to figure out specific things we can do to address these disparities.
“There are things we can do now that don’t require money to pour into pharmaceutical development — things that are manageable and can actually make a difference now, today.”