Background: Black patients with metastatic colorectal cancer have inferior survival compared to white patients. The purpose of this study was to examine disparity in specialist consultation and multimodality treatment and the impact that treatment inequality has on survival.
Methods: We identified 9935 non-Hispanic white and 1281 black patients with stage IV colorectal cancer aged 66 years and older from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare linked database. Logistic regression models identified race-based differences in consultation rates and subsequent treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Multivariable Cox regression models identified potential factors that explain race-based survival differences. All statistical tests were two-sided.
Results: Black patients had lower rates of consultation with surgery, medical oncology, and radiation oncology. Among patients seen in consultation, black patients received less surgery directed at the primary tumor, liver- or lung-directed surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Unadjusted survival analysis found a 15% higher chance of dying for black patients compared with white patients (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.15; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.08 to 1.22; P < .001). Adjustment for patient, tumor, and demographic variables marginally reduced the risk of death (HR = 1.08; 95% CI = 1.01 to 1.15; P = .03). After adjustment for differences in treatment, the increased risk of death for black patients disappeared.
Conclusions: Our study shows racial disparity in specialist consultation as well as subsequent treatment with multimodality therapy for metastatic colorectal cancer, and it suggests that inferior survival for black patients may stem from this treatment disparity. Further research into the underlying causes of this inequality will improve access to treatment and survival in metastatic colorectal cancer.