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Black patients half as likely to receive treatment for pancreatic cancer, UW study finds


A study from the UW Carbone Cancer Center has found that Black patients with pancreatic cancer have lower survival rates than white patients because they are far less likely to receive life-extending treatments in Wisconsin. 

According to a press release, Dr. Noelle LoConte, associate professor of medicine and a pancreatic cancer specialist at UW Carbone, is a senior author of the study that focused on 8,490 Wisconsin patients diagnosed with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, from the years 2004 to 2017. The study found that non-Hispanic Black patients were half as likely as white patients to receive any treatment.

Additionally, Black patients who were diagnosed lived shorter lives. Of 950 Wisconsin residents that have died from the disease in 2020, the study found that white patients have lived for an average of 9.6 months after being diagnosed, while Black patients lived for 8.6 months. 

“We found that access to care mitigates racial disparities,” said Dr. Loconte in a statement. “With that in mind, we in healthcare have a responsibility to address and break down the structural factors that can create barriers for Black patients to request and receive treatment.” 

In four statistical models, researchers changed certain variables, including insurance status or household income, in order to understand what would most effectively improve the disparities. The press release states that Black patients from higher-income counties, and with levels of insurance coverage equal to white patients, could see improved survival rates. Despite the improvement, differences in survival did not disappear unless Black patients received the same level of care as white patients. 

While the variables of insurance status and household income have an impact on survival rates among pancreatic cancer patients, receiving treatment and surgery has a greater impact on the differences in survival among Black and white patients. Researchers at UW Carbone found that non-Hispanic patients in Wisconsin were 50% less likely than non-Hispanic white patients to receive any treatment. It was also found that non-Hispanic Black patients who did receive any treatment were still 30% less likely to receive surgery, which is prominent at curing pancreatic cancer at an early stage and is ultimately a decision that clinicians make when deciding which patients would benefit from surgery. 

The authors of the study have recommended improving community outreach and engagement around cancer topics when tackling these issues. LoConte also suggested that asides from studies that look at social factors, researchers should also focus on how care is provided, and received by, Black patients and their families when trying to explain racial disparities. 

“We need to do a better job providing culturally humble care,” LoConte said in a statement. “Such approaches can include incorporating religious beliefs when appropriate, including families and other loved ones in the discussions, using racially concordant care providers and supportive staff like nurse navigators.”