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Public Health

New study shows Black cancer patients fared worse with COVID-19

Rear view of a patient at the hospital looking through window
FG Trade/Getty Images
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Rear view of a patient at the hospital looking through window

Black cancer patients fare worse with COVID-19, according to the results of a new nationwide study. The study — published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association's monthly publication, Network Open — looked at the health records of more than 3,500 patients.

Black people represent 13% of the U.S. population but account for 20% of COVID-19 cases and 23% of COVID-related deaths.

Dr. Dimpy Shah is one of the authors of the study. She was part of a cancer and COVID-19 consortium that began as a grassroots movement from a tweet that addressed concerns with Black patients who had cancer and COVID-19. The consortium eventually turned into an organization of 125 cancer centers from the U.S., Canada and Latin America.

The organization maintains a registry that collects information about patients with cancer who are also diagnosed with COVID-19. From that information, they collected data with the follow up outcomes: changes in cancer treatment, COVID-19 interventions and the long-term outcomes with COVID 19. The reports showed COVID-19 disproportionately affected black patients and black individuals.

Dr. Shah said Black patients with cancer have the highest death rates compared to all other racial and ethnic groups. She added a majority of the differences in health outcomes between Black patients and white patients are due to systematic racism.

“Some of the societal root causes of health disparities, include lack of access to health care, social care and preexisting comorbidities and access to clinical research are common to both cancer and COVID 19, and together, these two diseases create a perfect storm,” Dr. Shah said.

The lack of education, awareness, and access to healthcare coupled with a mistrust in the medical profession among the minority population has resulted in low vaccinations.

“If these disparities continue to exacerbate, then we would see much more disparities and health outcomes. We encourage all of our cancer patients to get vaccinated, to get boosted as the boosters are recommended,” Dr. Shah said.

“At a societal level, we want this to be examined with the lens of structural racism because it’s essential to improve the baseline function or baseline physiology, so that patients are immune to any new threats that come our way.”

Dr. Shah said the take-home message is that it's not the disease, but it's how our society is set up, which creates division that leads to worse outcomes in one racial group versus another.

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