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New Study Outlines Ethnic Disparities in Colon Cancer Screening

Scientists have long known that racial and ethnic disparities exist in colon cancer screening rates, but clear comparative figures have not been available until recently. Northwestern Medicine scientists have just published a study which clearly outlines disparities across all major racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Senior author, David Baker, M.D., M.P.H., explained the need for such a comprehensive study: “Although previous studies have demonstrated these national disparities, it was often difficult to interpret their findings. For example, Hispanic or Latino patients were frequently compared to a broad ‘non-Hispanic’ group comprised of a mix of whites and minorities.”

To perform their research, Baker and his co-author, David Liss, Ph.D., evaluated data from over 200,000 respondents in the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a national telephone health survey. Overall, 59.6 percent of respondents were reportedly current on colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal cancer screening rates in racial/ethnic categories were as follows:

  • White – 62.0%
  • Black – 59.0%
  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander – 54.6%
  • English-speaking Hispanic – 52.5%
  • American Indian/Alaska Native – 49.5%
  • Asian – 47.2%
  • Spanish-speaking Hispanic – 30.6%

After using a statistical model to adjust for socioeconomic status and access to healthcare, figures still showed that whites had a 24 percent higher screening rate than Spanish-speaking Hispanics and a 22 percent higher rate than Asians. The disparity between whites and English-speaking Hispanics decreased to 6 percent.

Baker and Liss believe that financial barriers are partially responsible for screening disparities. Colonoscopies remain the most common method of colorectal cancer screening in the United States, and the procedure can be quite costly.

In an effort to diminish screening disparities, Baker and Liss are continuing their research by conducting additional studies through Northwestern’s Center for Advancing Equity in Clinical Preventive Services (Source: Northwestern University).