Health insurance and tumor characteristics are major reasons for the differences in colon cancer survival rates between blacks and whites in the United States, a new study finds.

Researchers examined data from nearly 200,000 Americans with colon cancer, ages 18-64, and found that the five-year survival rate was 66.5 percent for whites and 57.3 percent for blacks — a difference of 9.2 percentage points.

But when the researchers looked at people with similar insurance coverage, that difference was cut nearly in half, to 4.9 percentage points. When they matched tumor characteristics, the survival differences fell to 2.3 percentage points.

The study was published online Nov. 13 in the journal Gastroenterology.

“These findings reinforce the importance of equitable health insurance coverage to mitigate the survival disparity between black versus white [colon cancer] patients in this age range, and underscore the need for further studies to elucidate reasons for racial differences in tumor characteristics,” wrote lead researcher Dr. Helmneh Sineshaw, of the American Cancer Society. He was joined by colleagues from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. Though incidence and death rates for this cancer are falling in the United States, attributed to earlier detection and better treatment, rates remain higher in blacks than in whites.

An American Cancer Society study released in October found that differences in insurance coverage also accounted for a third of the difference between white and black women in rates of early stage breast cancer.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on colon cancer.

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