Black men in the United States have higher rates of prostate cancer than white men, yet they were far less likely to have surgery for their cancer during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed data from a Pennsylvania urologic database to compare prostate removal (prostatectomy) rates among Black and white patients who had untreated prostate cancer that had not spread.
“Prior to the pandemic, there was no difference in the rate of surgery for Black and white patients diagnosed with prostate cancer,” said study lead author Dr. Adrien Bernstein, a second year urologic oncology fellow at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
“During the pandemic, however, Black men were 97% less likely than white men to undergo a prostatectomy,” Bernstein said in a center news release.
This huge disparity was not due to differences in prostate cancer severity or the risk of severe COVID-19 infections, but was related to systemic differences. Hospitals that cared for a greater proportion of Black patients had a larger decline in surgeries, according to the study.
It’s likely that the patterns found in the study are occurring across the U.S. health care system, the researchers warned.
Bernstein said that health care disparities have numerous factors and they all influence health outcomes. “Only by bringing these inequities to light are we able to begin the work to rectify them,” he said.
“Different policies were enacted for different communities. While prostate cancer surgery can be safely delayed up to a year, balanced mitigation strategies are needed as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bernstein added.
Prostate cancer affects 1 in 8 U.S. men, but the number rises to 1 in 6 among Black men.
“If you look at the prostate cancer literature, there is an unfortunate signal that Black patients do worse than white patients when it comes to prostate cancer outcomes,” said study co-author Dr. Andres Correa, an assistant professor of surgical oncology at Fox Chase.
“Historically, there has been interest in exploring possible genetic links that may explain the difference in outcomes between Black and white patients,” Correa said in the release. “Recent reports, however, have demonstrated that when you provide equal care, those differences go away.”
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men.
The study results were published July 22 in the journal JAMA Oncology.
The American Cancer Society has more on prostate cancer.
SOURCE: Fox Chase Cancer Center, news release, July 22, 2021
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