Death Rate Higher in Minorities With Acute Leukemia

Yet blacks and Hispanics are less likely to get the disease

THURSDAY, Sept. 22 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that blacks and Hispanics are less likely to develop acute leukemia than whites. But if they do become ill, they're much more likely to die.

"We don't know the reason for the disparity, but now that we know it exists we can investigate why it occurs," said study lead researcher Dr. Manali I. Patel, postdoctoral fellow in hematology/oncology at the Stanford Cancer Institute in Stanford, Calif., in a statement provided by the American Association for Cancer Research. "Like all disparities in cancer, there could be any combination of influences; however, we believe that socioeconomic factors and access to care may be playing an important role."

After studying medical records of nearly 41,000 patients with acute leukemia between 1998 and 2008, the researchers found that blacks had a 17 percent higher risk of dying of acute leukemia than whites, and Hispanics had a 12 percent higher risk.

Acute leukemia comes in two forms, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myelogenous leukemia. One of them -- the former -- revealed a much higher difference in mortality. Blacks and Hispanics with acute lymphoblastic leukemia faced about a 45 percent and 46 percent higher risk, respectively, of dying than whites. For acute myelogenous leukemia, the added risk was 12 percent for blacks and 6 percent for Hispanics.

"These data tell us that the disparity in overall survival in acute leukemia is driven by higher death rates in [acute lymphoblastic leukemia]," Patel said.

Leukemia isn't the only cancer which minorities have a lower risk of getting but a higher risk of dying from, researchers said. "This paradox is seen in other solid tumors, such as breast cancer. It occurs less frequently in black women, but mortality rates, stage for stage, are higher," Patel said. "Now that we have taken the crucial first step to document this disparity in acute leukemia, we need to understand the factors behind it so we can address and correct it."

The study was scheduled to be released at the American Association for Cancer Research Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Washington D.C.

Research presented at a medical meeting should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewd journal.

More information

For more about leukemia, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Randy Dotinga SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, Sept. 19, 2011

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