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Washington, DC [February 24, 2010] -- A new analysis published this week in the journal Cancer indicates that misperceptions about risk, symptoms and the lethality of lung cancer may play a role in the disproportionately higher incidence and mortality rates for lung cancer among African Americans.
The first author of the report, Christopher Lathan MD, MS, MPH, an oncologist at Dana-Farber and a professor at Harvard Medical School, is one of the leading researchers in the country on disparity issues in lung cancer and a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Board of Lung Cancer Alliance.
The paper, entitled "Racial Differences in the Perception of Lung Cancer," analyzes data from a national telephone surveys carried out in by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2003 and 2005.
Only 26% of those surveyed correctly identified lung cancer as the biggest cancer killer.
"All races and both sexes grossly underestimated the lethality of lung cancer," Dr. Lathan pointed out. "But we also found that African Americans were more reluctant than white respondents to get checked for fear of the disease, less likely to blame it on behavioral causes, and less likely to seek care early."
He called these misperceptions "a grave concern" because African American men are being diagnosed at later stage, and stage is linked to outcomes.
According to NCI statistics cited in the paper, African American men are two to four times more likely to have lung cancer, even when adjusted for differences in smoking rates. The survival gap started in the early 1980's and has been sustained since then.
Previous papers by Dr. Lathan found that African Americans obtain surgery for lung cancer less often than whites and do less well under treatment, with socio-economic factors implicated.
Lung Cancer Alliance President Laurie Fenton-Ambrose acknowledged the important work of Dr. Lathan and noted that these findings underscore the need to pass the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act now pending in both Houses of Congress.
The bill specifically cites the lung cancer disparity issue and calls for more research and an early detection program targeting minority and low income populations.
Congresswoman Donna Christensen (D-VI), the primary sponsor in the House, said: "The findings from this study validate the need for far greater communication about lung cancer overall, the benefits of screening and early detection and concrete steps that we can and should take to end this disparity."
She is the only woman medical doctor in Congress, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over health policy, and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust.
To view a video of Dr. Christopher Lathan discussing racial disparities and lung cancer, click here.