Racial disparities for one type of tumor disappear

African-Americans diagnosed before 2000 with a very rare kind of tumor found in or near the digestive tract were less likely than other races to receive surgery, and even when they did have surgery, they were more likely to die of the cancer. Today, however, African-Americans with these tumors have outcomes equivalent to those in other races, according to a new study.

The differences are likely due to the availability of a treatment called imatinib, marketed as Gleevec, say the authors of the study.

Using data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry, Dr. Leonidas G. Koniaris and colleagues from the University of Miami, Florida, compared outcomes of patients diagnosed gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) before and after imatinib was introduced in 2000.

According to their report in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, 3795 patients were diagnosed with GIST between 1992 and 2005, with 30 percent diagnosed before 2000. Overall, 72 percent were white, 16 percent were African-American, and 9 percent were Hispanic.

In the earlier group, the risk of dying within 30 days of surgery was higher in African Americans than in whites, although there was no difference in the stages of the tumors found.

Also, African Americans were less likely than whites to undergo surgery (80 percent versus 88 percent).

After 2000, however, the risk of dying within 30 days of surgery were equivalent between races, as was the likelihood of having surgery.

Koniaris told Reuters Health in an email that the findings “suggest that newer therapies, although extremely expensive, have greatly impacted health for all patients with GIST.”