Prostate cancer affects an estimated 1 in 8 men, with over 250,000 new cases diagnosed each year. More specifically, prostate cancer appears to affect older black men more than other populations.
And yet, despite the increased prevalence among black men, they are less likely to receive the needed care for managing prostate cancer and twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white men. These stark realities, in many cases, are due to racial disparities and generations of structural disadvantages experienced by black people in the U.S.
However, much like disparities in access to care and treatment, access to emerging technologies for diagnosing and managing prostate cancer show similar disparities. This includes MRIs, which can help better understand someone’s cancer and improve treatment decision making. Specifically, the use of MRIs as a diagnostic tool shows low rates of usage among black men compared to white men.
But why? A new study published in JAMA Oncology offers potential answers.
Researchers at Yale University and The University of California, San Francisco completed a mediation analysis to understand how different factors (such as structural, demographic, poverty, or geographical factors) affected disparities in access to MRIs for newly-diagnosed prostate cancer patients. Researchers used data available on Medicare beneficiaries to conduct their analysis. Participants included were at least 66 years old and had localized (versus metastasized) prostate cancer. Looking at this data, researchers searched for whether a prostate MRI was received within 13 months of diagnosis.
Researchers found a myriad of intersecting characteristics among those who received an MRI versus who did not. Characteristics of those more likely to receive an MRI included higher education levels, marital status, and lower clinical risk.
Jarringly, researchers also found that patients living in areas with higher levels of poverty and segregation were less likely to receive a diagnostic MRI.
Researchers hope their findings could help shape efforts to expand access to this crucial diagnostic technology. Specifically, their findings suggest that more can be done to track newly-diagnosed prostate cancer patients who do or don’t return for an MRI. On a broader scale, their findings also contribute to a growing body of evidence calling for more attention to racial disparities in access to healthcare.