Risk Factors for Racial Disparities Are Similar for Cancer and COVID-19

Factors that lead to racial disparities in cancer, including health comorbidities, education level, and more, are similar for COVID-19, according to a study. Despite the significant differences between the two diseases—cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells grow rapidly and destroy normal body tissue, while COVID-19 is an infectious disease—factors that are associated with racial disparities in both diseases include socioeconomic disadvantages, level of education, lifestyle factors, health comorbidities, and limited access to medical care, the researchers found. The overlap is “uncanny,” according to study author John M. Carethers, MD, John G. Searle Professor and Chair of Internal Medicine at Michigan Medicine. “In cancer we are seeing in slow motion what has been observed rapidly with COVID—that the same conditions in our society put specific groups at risk for both. If we can fundamentally change socioeconomic inequality, we theoretically could reduce disparities in both diseases,” Dr. Carethers said in a press release. Racial disparities are well-documented, spanning various cancer types. Black patients with cancer, compared to White patients, have lower five-year survival. In fact, another recent study found that while mortality rates after cancer surgery are on the decline, the racial gap between Black and White patients is not narrowing. While there are less data available for COVID-19, the available information shows that Black patients have greater rates of hospitalization and mortality than White patients. Dr. Carethers and his coauthors called recommended strategies to help curb the racial disparities, including promoting community engagement, enrolling diverse patients in cancer and COVID-19 clinical trials, insuring patients who are unemployed as a result of their disease, and supporting public hospitals: “These strategies are feasible, but will take political will, and in some cases, funding. It relies on what people are willing to do to make it work,” he said. “We have much to do at all levels.” The study was published in Clinical Cancer Research. To learn more about racial disparities in cancer, click here.