A recent analysis of the National Health Service’s database has revealed that Asian and Black people in England are forced to wait longer for cancer diagnoses than white people.
Based on the NHS data review conducted by the University of Exeter and The Guardian, minority ethnic patients had to wait an extra six weeks to get diagnosed.
The review covered the four most common cancers: lung, breast, prostate and colorectal, as well as three commonly diagnosed in ethnic minorities: oesophagogastric, myeloma and ovarian. The discrepancy was reportedly found in six of the seven cancers studied, prompting health officials and advocates to call the findings “deeply concerning.”
Researchers looked into 126,000 cancer cases in England between 2006 and 2016 and discovered that the median time for a white person to get diagnosed after first presenting symptoms to a general practitioner (GP) was 55 days. It was 9 percent longer for Asian people, who had to wait 60 days, and 11 percent longer for Black people, who had to wait 61 days.
The discrepancy is even more startling for specific cancers. For esophagogastric cancers, it took white people 53 days to get a diagnosis while Asians waited 100 days, which is six weeks longer.
For myeloma, the median wait time for white people was 93 days, but for Black people, the wait time was 127 days, which is over a month longer.
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Meanwhile, the average longest waiting time for the diagnosis of breast cancer in white women was 43 days, compared to 56 days for Asian women and 73 days for Black women.
A delay in diagnosis could significantly impact a patient’s chances of survival as one may contend with limited availability of treatments or lessened effectiveness of delayed treatment.
According to University of Exeter researcher Tanimola Martins, their findings “help explain” why ethnic minorities “have poorer outcomes for some cancers and report worse experiences of healthcare.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Mitchell, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK, which funded the research, pointed out that while the differences are “unlikely to be the sole explanation for the inequalities in cancer survival,” she highlighted that the “extended wait times may cause additional stress and anxiety for ethnic minority patients.”
Race Equality Foundation Chief Executive Jabeer Butt pointed out the need for a better understanding of how such discrepancies in wait times happen and what the government and the NHS can do about it.
“These findings are deeply worrying, with potential life-altering consequences for the health of black and Asian people,” Butt was quoted as saying.
Adding that such differences are “disturbing” but “sadly not surprising,” he continued: “We urgently need to address these underlying factors holding black and Asian patients back from getting a fair chance when it comes to fighting cancer.”
In the U.S., where cancer is the leading cause of death among Asian Americans, the community is challenged by a disproportionate number of studies focused on Asians. In April, American researchers called for an approach to research that includes “disaggregated data, assessment of the impact of lived experiences … and listening to community voices” to better represent the diversity among Asian American and Pacific Islander subgroups.