Black patients wait longer for diagnosis, treatment of colorectal cancer, new study finds

Black patients wait longer for diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer than their white counterparts do, a new study has revealed.

The analysis was conducted by Komodo Health and BLKHLTH. Using Komodo’s database of anonymized U.S. patient data, the companies looked at Black and white patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer between the start of 2019 and the end of August 2020. Researchers tracked time between diagnosis and first treatment as well as chemotherapy or surgeries for a year after diagnosis. Data on uninsured patients was not analyzed.

Among patients who sought chemo or surgery, Black patients waited an average of eight days longer (67 days post-diagnosis) than white patients (59 days post-diagnosis). Black patients were also more likely (6.8%) to experience 60 or more days of delayed treatment after diagnosis. In total, more than a third of Black patients experienced this delay. 

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Black patients were also 2.3% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer after it had already metastasized. In total, more than one-fifth of Black patients presented with more severe disease than their white counterparts.

Findings affirmed that the pandemic affected the level of new diagnoses, a decline which appears to have affected Black and white populations similarly. Between July 2020 and July 2021, diagnoses ranged from 7% to 26% below pre-pandemic averages. 

“Treatment delays may lead to worse outcomes from disease and cause unnecessary emotional and medical stressors to an already vulnerable population,” a report on the findings said. “The cause of these treatment delays may be systemic racial bias in healthcare and barriers of access to care in the Black patient population.” The report cited other potential factors affecting these disparities including lower screening rates and a younger average age of disease onset among Black patients as well as social determinants of health. 

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In the future, researchers should look at the various systemic contributors that may be driving delays to initial treatment in Black colorectal cancer patients. The report also called on hospitals to leverage technology to better understand the social needs of patients and to identify those most at risk through population health management programs within electronic health record systems, for example. Community engagement for health systems is also critical to ensuring underserved populations are equipped with resources to achieve better health. 

“The tools to close the racial health gaps in colorectal cancer outcomes are available,” the report concluded. “It is timelier than ever to use them.”