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Navigating racial health disparities in NSCLC

Cropped shot of a group of unrecognisable people joining hands in solidarity out in nature

We all deserve to be part of an equitable and fair healthcare system. Cancer doesn’t discriminate and it exists in many forms regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and socioeconomic status. 

When looking at outcomes for those who have been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), people of color tend to face worse outcomes than white people who are facing the very same disease. It’s important to understand why this disparity occurs and how to self-advocate, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

Consider this data from the American Lung Association State of Lung Cancer:

Compared to white patients, Black patients with lung cancer were: 

  • 15% less likely to be diagnosed early
  • 19% less likely to receive surgical treatment
  • 11% more likely to not receive any treatment
  • 16% less likely to survive five years compared to white individuals. 

Approximately two-thirds of the 28 million people who lack health insurance today are people of color.

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or you’re already receiving treatment, here’s what you should know:

Black patients are less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage

Early detection of cancer, including NSCLC, often means you have more treatment options and the cancer is more receptive to treatment. Black patients are less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage, which limits treatment options. 

Understanding family history and being aware of lung cancer symptoms can help guide conversations with providers and determine eligibility for screening.

Screening guidelines have recently been updated

Under 2013 guidelines, approximately only 32% of Black patients with lung cancer were eligible for screening while 56% of white patients were eligible.

The starting screening age was lowered from 55 years to 50 years with 20 pack years (a pack year is the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day multiplied by the number of years the person has smoked) in 2021. This is because Black patients typically develop lung cancer at a younger age, despite smoking less. 

Smoking is not the only risk factor for people of color

Other risk factors besides smoking include environmental exposures. These risk factors should be discussed with a care team, whether you’ve been diagnosed with NSCLC or not.

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about genetic testing, especially if you have family members who have been diagnosed with NSCLC or other forms of cancer.

How to find care

Feeling confident and comfortable with your care team is key to your treatment plan. Be sure your questions and concerns are heard and don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion with another provider if necessary.

If you have additional questions or you’d like to speak with someone about a specific issue, you can connect with an Outcomes4Me oncology nurse practitioner at no charge through the Outcomes4Me app, using the “Ask Outcomes4Me” button.

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