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Study: minority children with cancer have higher mortality rates

Posted at 4:40 PM, May 12, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A medical study done at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital suggests minority children are more likely to die as a result of cancer.

The study found that mortality rates for African American (8.5 percent) and Hispanic children (8.1 percent) are significantly higher compared to Caucasian non-Hispanic children (6.3 percent). If you do the math, it comes to a 34.9% difference between African American children versus Caucasian non-Hispanic children, and a 28.6% difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Caucasian children.

The authors study include scientist Mara Leimanis Laurens and Dr. Surender Rajasekaran, Medical Director of Research and ICU Physician and Helen Devos Children's Hospital.

The study looked at data compiled from across the country over the course of about 10 years from pediatric ICU's at different hospitals.

"So what what that allowed us to do was to look at cancer patients with cancer, children with cancer, being in various ICU’S across the country and to see how they were doing in those ICU's. Did they get out of the ICU? Did they end up passing away in the ICU?," said Dr. Rajasekaran.

The study not only found that minority children had significantly higher mortality rates, but also much sicker when they entered the ICU for care, as distinguished by 'the Pediatric Risk of Mortality' (PRISM) score. It's a main indicator used in pediatric ICU's.

"That was important in this study because that showed us that some of the minority patients were coming with higher PRISM scores," said Dr. Rajasekaran. "They were a lot sicker than Caucasian patients with a comparable diagnosis and a comparable level of illness."

While it's clear the data shows a racial disparity, the authors believe it's possible many factors are contributing to the mortality rates including socioeconomic background, family history, or even geographical areas where children are raised.

The study suggests that issues of access to care with subsequent delay in diagnosis could explain worse outcomes in minority groups. Historically, the delivery of health care is not equal among all patients, with nearly 21 percent of all children living in poverty. African American or Hispanic children are two to three times more likely to live in poverty than Caucasian children.

"if you live in the real world, then you realize that it is probably not genetic. It probably had to do with access. It probably has to do with a whole bunch of other things that these kids are not getting as the same as other kids."

The study also looked at geographical areas, finding minority children were more likely to die as a result of cancer in the South and West, even compared to a child with a comparable condition and illness in the Midwest or Northeast.

You can access the study here.