Jul 7, 2022 - Health

Young Black leukemia patients have worse outcomes, study finds

Illustration of a leukemia cause ribbon that is beginning to fray
Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Younger Black leukemia patients were likelier to die early or not go into complete remission than their white peers when receiving the same intensive treatment, according to a new study in Blood Advances.

Why it matters: The findings suggest race may factor into survival from acute myeloid leukemia and that a one-size-fits all approach that includes chemotherapy may not be optimal for some.

Details: The study used patient data from clinical trial and oncology study groups from 1983 to 2016 to compare genomic profiles of cancer patients as well as their outcomes.

  • Black patients aged 18 to 29 with acute myeloid leukemia had a higher early death rate, lower complete remission rate and decreased overall survival compared to white patients the same age who received the same treatment.
  • Typically, AML is a cancer found in older people, and the findings challenged long-held assumptions that most younger people diagnosed with blood cancer do well with treatment and survive more often.
  • "We were pretty astounded to see the outcomes were substantially different," Karilyn Larkin, a study author from Ohio State University, told Axios.

Go deeper: The study also found that there are biologic differences in how leukemia presents itself in white and Black patients, but it's unclear that these differences are actually leading to worse outcomes for Black patients.

  • The study should bring heightened awareness to racial disparities and bias in medicine, from lack of diversity in clinical trials to caretaker bias impacting a patient's care, Larkin said.

The bottom line: Better diversity in clinical trials is important for establishing just which treatment might be needed for younger Black leukemia patients, Larkin said.

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