Racial, ethnic and socioeconomic factors affect cancer outcomes.
AS HE GREW OLDER, DALE Kunitomi paid closer attention to his health — and to his doctor’s advice. When he noticed rectal bleeding in 2010, he went to see his physician, who ordered a colonoscopy.
The diagnosis: colon cancer.
Kunitomi, now 74, underwent surgery, radiation and chemotherapy — and now he has been cancer-free for seven years. “The things that are said about early detection and living a healthy lifestyle are important,” said Kunitomi, a resident of Ventura County, California. “You are foolish if you don’t pay attention.”
Californians are living longer with most types of cancer, due to earlier detection and more effective treatments, according to new research from the University of California-Davis. But racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities persist, the report found.
The study, published this week, shows that 65 percent of people diagnosed with cancer between 2006 and 2010 survived five years or more from the time their disease was discovered, up from 58 percent for those diagnosed between 1990 and 1994. The researchers drew from data on 1.4 million California adults diagnosed with 27 different kinds of cancer. They found improved survival rates for patients with all but five types of cancer.
Non-Latino whites had the highest five-year survival rate for all cancers combined, followed by Latinos — though Pacific Islanders and Asians, like Kunitomi, had the highest rates for 13 of the cancers studied, including breast, colon, liver and lung. African-Americans had the worst overall prognosis.
The California numbers echo a national trend of significant improvement in cancer survival, one also tempered by racial and ethnic disparities. A recent analysis in the journal Cancer, which relied on death rather than survival rates, found a 26 percent decline in cancer mortality in the United States between 1991 and 2015 — translating to nearly 2.4 million cancer deaths avoided. The study showed mortality rates declined for all the major cancers, including breast, colorectal and prostate.
Dr. Otis Brawley, one of the authors of that report and chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society, attributed the improvement to better screening, detection and treatment — and a decline in smoking. He said cancer deaths likely would drop even further if there were more equal access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UC-Davis data show that poor Californians don’t live as long with cancer as those of greater means. About three-quarters of the patients at the highest socioeconomic level, with all cancers combined, survived five years or more. Just over half the patients at the lowest levels lived that long. Age was also a major factor: The younger patients were at the time of the diagnosis, the better their chance of survival.
|Read on: Californians Living Longer With Cancer|