Racial differences in the treatment of early-stage lung cancer

N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 14;341(16):1198-205. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199910143411606.


Background: If discovered at an early stage, non-small-cell lung cancer is potentially curable by surgical resection. However, two disparities have been noted between black patients and white patients with this disease. Blacks are less likely to receive surgical treatment than whites, and they are likely to die sooner than whites. We undertook a population-based study to estimate the disparity in the rates of surgical treatment and to evaluate the extent to which this disparity is associated with differences in overall survival.

Methods: We studied all black patients and white patients 65 years of age or older who were given a diagnosis of resectable non-small-cell lung cancer (stage I or II) between 1985 and 1993 and who resided in 1 of the 10 study areas of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program (10,984 patients). Data on the diagnosis, stage of disease, treatment, and demographic characteristics of the patients were obtained from the SEER data base. Information on coexisting illnesses, type of Medicare coverage, and survival was obtained from linked Medicare inpatient-discharge records.

Results: The rate of surgery was 12.7 percentage points lower for black patients than for white patients (64.0 percent vs. 76.7 percent, P<0.001), and the five-year survival rate was also lower for blacks (26.4 percent vs. 34.1 percent, P<0.001). However, among the patients undergoing surgery, survival was similar for the two racial groups, as it was among those who did not undergo surgery. Furthermore, analyses in which adjustments were made for factors that are predictive of either candidacy for surgery or survival did not alter the influence of race on these outcomes.

Conclusions: Our analyses suggest that the lower survival rate among black patients with early-stage, non-small-cell lung cancer, as compared with white patients, is largely explained by the lower rate of surgical treatment among blacks. Efforts to increase the rate of surgical treatment for black patients appear to be a promising way of improving survival in this group.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Blacks*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / ethnology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / surgery
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Lung / surgery
  • Lung Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Patient Selection
  • Pneumonectomy / statistics & numerical data
  • SEER Program
  • Social Class
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Whites*