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Better access to health care is key to higher survival rates for African-Americans with colon cancer

BOSTON -- African-Americans with colon cancer are more likely to die from the disease than are whites, but a new study has found that those survival rate disparities virtually disappear when both groups have equal access to chemotherapy after surgery. Led by investigators at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the research team also discovered that African-Americans were less likely than whites to experience some chemotherapy side-effects, including diarrhea and nausea.

The study, published in the Aug. 7 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, provides new evidence that a lack of access to quality care, rather than an innate biological difference, is largely to blame for the generally lower survival rates of African-Americans with colon cancer, the authors say.

"Most researchers have suspected that the lower survival rate among African-Americans with colon cancer is due to variations in the availability of adequate medical care rather than any unique characteristics of their tumors," says the study's senior author, Charles Fuchs, M.D., of Dana-Farber. "This study indicates that when African-American and white patients receive the same basic treatment for the disease surgery followed by chemotherapy they fare equally well."

Data for the study came from a clinical trial designed to measure the effectiveness of chemotherapy for colon cancer patients who had undergone surgery to remove cancerous portions of their colons.

Fuchs and his colleagues compared survival rates and the level of side effects in 344 African-American and 3,036 white patients enrolled in the trial. The patients all had cancer of the colon that was removed surgically within the prior six weeks. As part of the trial, all patients received six to eight weeks of chemotherapy after surgery.

The investigators found no major differences in survival rates for the two groups five years after treatment. The African-American patients had a 65 percent o
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Contact: Janet Haley Dubow
janet_haley@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-5665
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
6-Aug-2002


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