Research Brief: Socioeconomic status affects childhood cancer survival rates

August 21, 2018
Childhood cancer

For African-American and Hispanic children, the survival rates for many types of childhood cancers are substantially lower compared to non-Hispanic white children in the United States. For example, the five-year survival rate for central nervous system tumors is about 66 percent for African American children and 70 percent for Hispanic children compared to 74 percent for non-Hispanic white children.

A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health published in Cancer explored whether underlying differences in socioeconomic status (SES) — defined as an individual’s social and economic position in relation to others based on income, education and occupation — contributed to the racial and ethnic disparities in childhood cancer survival. Led by doctoral student Rebecca Kehm, researchers from the School of Public Health and Masonic Cancer Center, examined the most common types of childhood cancer to determine if mediation by SES differs across tumor types.

Key findings include:

  • SES accounted for 28 to 73 percent of the racial and ethnic survival disparity for some types of childhood cancer, specifically acute lymphoblastic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, neuroblastoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • SES did not significantly contribute to racial and ethnic disparities in survival of other types of childhood cancer, including central nervous system tumors, soft tissue sarcomas, Hodgkin lymphoma, Wilms tumor and germ cell tumors.

These findings provide insight for future intervention efforts aimed at closing the survival gap.

“We need continued research focused on understanding and, ultimately, addressing racial and ethnic disparities in childhood survival of certain cancers,” said Kehm. “These disparities could be reduced by alleviating social and economic barriers to effective care, such as expanding health insurance coverage, improving patient care coordination, increasing health literacy and supporting transportation and childcare costs during treatment. These and other interventions could potentially improve cancer survival for all children.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health Translational Pediatric Cancer Epidemiology Training Grant (T32CA099936).

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