Despite years of research aimed at decreasing the cancer mortality rates, the disparity between African-Americans and whites continues to grow. The fundamental psychosocial and belief differences that may mediate these disparities are poorly studied and rarely disentangle race versus specific socioeconomic status (SES) effects. In this study, breast, colon, and lung cancer patients presenting for their first oncology appointment completed a self-administered survey utilizing previously validated instruments regarding psychosocial and belief factors. Results were analyzed by self-identified race, income, and education. In total, 161 African-American (37 %) and 269 white (63 %) new oncology patients with breast (47 %), colon (16 %), or lung (37 %) cancer enrolled. African-Americans were more likely to be in the US$<20,000 income group (45 vs. 9 %) but 21 % had incomes US$>60,000. Apparent racial differences in health literacy and cancer knowledge were primarily mediated by income and education. Significant racial differences in God's perceived role in their cancer remained after adjustments for income and education with African-Americans more likely to feel that God was in control of their cancer (67 vs. 30 %). These findings suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of how race and socioeconomic status exert both independent and interrelated effects in the health care setting. Only then can effective interventions that reduce disparities in survival be designed. This study adds further substantive evidence to the crucial importance of God's perceived role in the cancer experience for African-Americans. An important area for future research is to examine whether these racial differences in religious belief are also associated with differences in health-related behavior and medical decision-making.
Keywords: Cancer; Health disparities; Race; Religious beliefs; Social support; Trust.