Background: African-Americans generally have lower survival rates from colon cancer than Caucasian Americans. This disparity has been attributed to many sources, including diagnosis at later disease stage and other unfavorable disease features, inadequate treatment, and socioeconomic factors. The randomized clinical trial setting ensures similarity in disease stage and a uniform treatment plan between blacks and whites. In this study, we evaluated survival and related end points for African-American and Caucasian patients with colon cancer participating in randomized clinical trials of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) to determine whether outcomes were less favorable for African-Americans.
Methods: The study included African-American (n = 663) or Caucasian (n = 5969) patients from five serially conducted, randomized clinical trials of the NSABP. We compared recurrence-free survival, disease-free survival (recurrence, new primary cancer, or death), and survival (death from any cause) between blacks and whites by using statistical modeling to account for differences in patient and disease characteristics between the groups. Statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: Dukes' stage and number of positive lymph nodes were remarkably similar between African-American and Caucasian patients in each trial. Over all trials combined, an 8% (95% confidence interval [CI] = -6% to 25%; P =.27) excess risk of colon cancer recurrence that was not statistically significant was observed for blacks. A greater disparity in survival was seen, with blacks experiencing a statistically significant 21% (95% CI = 6%-37%; P =.004) greater risk of death. Treatment efficacy appeared similar between the groups.
Conclusions: While the overall survival prognosis was less favorable for African-Americans compared with Caucasians in these trials, other outcomes measured were considerably more similar than those seen in the population at large, suggesting that earlier detection and adjuvant therapy could appreciably improve colon cancer prognosis for African-Americans. Continued investigations into causes of the deficits noted are warranted.