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Racial disparity of cancer high in Georgia, South Carolina

Study conducted at Univ of Georgia College of Public Health

A study conducted at the University's College of Public Health produced sobering findings about racial health disparities in Georgia.

Black people who suffer from cancer, the study found, are much less likely to survive.

Researchers, led by epidemiology professor Sara Wagner, analyzed information from existing health databases, primarily the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Registry. They found patterns describing how cancer mortality rates are related to factors such as race and geography.
These findings were published in an article for Cancer, the official journal of the American Cancer Society.
Wagner's study, unlike others in the same field, looked at the mortality-to-incidence ratio — a measure abbreviated as MIR that is used to indicate how often people die from an illness once they have contracted it. This allows researchers to take into account the prevalence of a disease.
We have already known, Wagner said, that black patients have higher cancer rates than white cancer patients. When MIRs are compared, however, it shows that black cancer patients are actually less likely to survive than white patients.
This trend seems to hold true across various types of cancer, most of all for prostate cancer, cervical cancer and oral cancer in males. The MIR for oral cancer, for example, is 81 percent higher for blacks than for whites.
The trend continues further in geographical areas, including Georgia.
Black Americans have higher cancer mortality rates in general, but the disparity in Georgia is greater than average.
The study found that the difference is most pronounced in the rural areas of Georgia. The lowest MIRs, meanwhile, are present in the Atlanta area. Health districts with better clinical care and better social standing tend to have better outcomes.
This type of research is relatively new for Georgia, she said, despite the availability of detailed public health records.
“I feel like it's a little behind the times, and before we start doing really sophisticated things, we really just need to understand what's going on,” she said.
Examination of MIR for cancer was originally carried out at the University of South Carolina, where Wagner earned her Ph.D. The results indicate that racial disparities in cancer mortality in South Carolina are similar to those in Georgia.
Wagner's study was the first published study to use the MIR to examine racial disparities in Georgia. She described her work as just the beginning of a growth in understanding of the dynamics of cancer in Georgia.
“This paper is really just the first step, describing things, highlighting geographies where we need to focus research efforts, highlighting the fact that these regional patterns exist," she said. "Figuring out why is the big question.”
The next step is to more deeply explore the details of what could be causing such great disparities. Wagner said that the answer is probably not simple.
“It likely has a lot to do with social factors, with disparities in access to care, income, education, but it's likely much more complicated," she said. "It's also likely partly environment, it's also likely biology, it's likely a lot of things.”
Looking to the future, Wagner said she may look into the relationship between environmental contaminants and cancer rates.
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