Researchers Examine Racial and Age Disparities in Cancer Survival

Dr. Wei Zheng, MD, PhD Division of Epidemiology, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TennesseeMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Wei Zheng, MD, PhD
Division of Epidemiology, Department of Medicine,
Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center,
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee

 

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Wei Zheng: Substantial progress has been made in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, resulting in a steady improvement in cancer survival. However, the degree of improvement by age, race and sex remains unclear. We quantified the differences in the improvement of cancer survival by race, age, and sex over the last two decades.

We used cancer diagnosis and follow-up data from more than 1 million cancer patients, collected in nine SEER registries, to investigate trends in improved survival for seven major cancers in the United States by age, race, and sex between 1990 and 2010. We found that elderly patients experienced a smaller improvement in survival for cancers of the colon/rectum, breast, prostate, lung, and liver than their younger counterparts. In particular, the age-related disparities were most pronounced for those cancers with the greatest advancements in diagnosis and treatment over the past two decades, including cancers of colon/rectum, breast and prostate. African Americans experienced poorer survival than whites for all cancers. Because of a greater improvement in prostate cancer survival in African Americans than for whites, the racial difference in the survival of this cancer decreased during the study period. For ovarian cancer, however, the survival rate declined in African Americans but slightly increased in whites, leading to a wider racial gap in the survival of this deadly cancer. No apparent disparities in survival improvement by sex were noted.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Wei Zheng: This study suggests that age-related differences in survival improvements over time may be explained in part by differences in cancer care across these sub-populations.

Clinicians should consider all options, including the most advanced regiments, in cancer treatment for elderly patients. Research is needed to develop optimal cancer treatment regimens for elderly cancer patients. The need for specific guidelines for the elderly is particularly pressing because this population constitutes the fastest growing subpopulation of cancer patients in the US.

Elderly patients should work with their physicians to fully understand the benefits and harms of all treatment options to make an informed decision.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Wei Zheng: This study calls for research to identify the reasons for the observed age and race-related disparities in the degree of cancer survival improvement over the past two decades. These studies will provide important information to inform future improvement in cancer care for all.

Citation:

MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Dr. Wei Zheng, MD, PhD (2015). Researchers Examine Racial and Age Disparities in Cancer Survival