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Latino cancer patients aged 15 to 29 are much more likely than non-Hispanic whites to die within two years of being diagnosed, according to new research from the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
The study of three ethnic groups found Latinos had a risk baseline level of 1.77, compared to whites and blacks (1.76), leading researchers to presume financial and socioeconomic factors are taking a toll on minorities.
"What this means is that black and Hispanic young adults are almost 75 percent more likely to die after being diagnosed with liver cancer than are young adult patients," said study author Meryl Colton, a medical student at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Colton called the revelation a starting point, adding that the hard part is figuring out why liver cancer disproportionately affects blacks and Hispanics.
"This is a population that shouldn't be getting cancer and it's devastating when they do," she said. "Knowing that a disparity exists allows us to ask questions that can help ensure everyone receives the best possible care."
The number of patients surveyed was not disclosed.
The Ethnic Divide Among Cancer Patients
Researchers suggest three untested possibilities for the disparity.
Doctors may simply misdiagnose cancer patients. Mistaking one form of cancer for another not only puts a patient's life in danger, it causes unnecessary treatment that would otherwise go to needy patients. Another reason may be the inherent risk certain ethnicities have; some genetic conditions and diseases are more common in people with foreign ancestral roots.
Though additional work is required, the initial study points to the patient's socioeconomic factors, such as their income, education level, and ability to afford treatment.
Researchers took finances out of the equation by using control groups with and without health insurance. They still found an imbalance among minorities. An individual's chance of dying correlated to their race and financial resources.
Latinos Covered Under Obamacare
The National Cancer Institute notes that one of the biggest disparity factors comes from a lack of health care coverage. Patients without insurance are less prone to annual checkups and are likelier to be diagnosed with a late-stage disease, oftentimes at a point when the disease is untreatable.
The Affordable Care Act -- or Obamacare -- brought historic increases in coverage for low-wage earners when it was introduced two years ago, as many as 80 percent of recipients which came from Mexican and Central American backgrounds. For the first time, undocumented immigrants received medical care after being shunned by the U.S. health care system.
Coverage extends to cancer patients. The ACA ensures people with the disease are not turned away due to health status or lack of funds.
"People need to know how the Affordable Care Act will affect them in easy-to-understand language," American Cancer Society doctor Maureen Killackey said when Obamacare rolled out. "While the law is not perfect, it will significantly improve the health care system and save lives."