Despite receiving similar cancer treatment as other patients, African Americans with a common form of leukemia didn’t live as long in a new study that was aimed at understanding the racial disparity in cancer outcomes.
“We don’t have an answer” to explain it, said Dr. Alessandra Ferrajoli, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Though all patients received equal medical treatment, the black patients tended to have chromosome mutations and other characteristics that are known to be linked with a worse prognosis.
It’s likely “not related to the treatment,” Ferrajoli speculated, “it’s probably a different biology.”
Previous studies have found that African Americans are more likely to die from cancer than whites.
For instance, researchers reported last year that blacks have a greater chance of dying after a kidney cancer diagnosis, despite having better odds of developing a more easy-to-treat form of the cancer.
Other research has shown that black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than white women.
Over a five-year period, between 1997 and 2011, more than 1,600 patients were treated for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the second most common form of leukemia.
About four out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with CLL each year.
Of those in Ferrajoli’s study, 84 were African American and 1,571 were not.
Her group found evidence that African American patients received the same quality of treatment as the other patients.
Over years of follow up, the researchers found that 21 percent of the African American patients and nine percent of the other patients died.
In addition, African American patients typically went 36 months without a recurrence of the cancer, while the other patients made it 61 months.
Ferrajoli said there must be some differences in the cancer between African American and other patients to explain why they don’t fare as well.