Oncologists at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center are seeing trends in terms of black and white after studying the treatment preferences of prostate cancer patients.

Those studies were led by Dr. Ronald Chen, who explained that race plays a role in the way that patients diagnosed with prostate cancer perceive and address their disease.

“In African-American men, they are almost twice as likely as Caucasian men to be diagnosed with prostate cancer,” he relayed.

“They’re more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer, but, on the other hand, African-American men tend to choose less aggressive treatment and more African-American men don’t choose treatment at all.

“This is a known disparity, and many of these reasons lead to a higher death rates in African-American prostate cancer patients.”

Ronald Chen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.


Conclusions were drawn after Chen and his team weighed the perceptions of newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients against the reality of the diagnoses in their medical records.

“We called over 1,100 prostate cancer patients across North Carolina,” he reported.

“There were 300 African-American patients and almost 900 Caucasian patients who were just diagnosed with prostate cancer […] and we had the opportunity to call them at home.”

Those calls revealed that 55 percent of surveyed black patients with an aggressive form of prostate cancer claimed that their condition was not severe when quizzed by interviewers.

“In contrast, the Caucasian patients, only about 24 percent of those with aggressive cancer said it was not aggressive, so there’s a big difference between 55 percent and 24 percent getting the wrong answer,” offered Chen.

“We think that patients not understanding how aggressive their cancer actually is, probably answers some of the reasons why people choose less aggressive treatment for their disease.”

Chen also noted that surveyed white patients expressed less of an interest in the lengths of their treatment and recovery times than surveyed black patients.

“75 to 80 percent of African-Americans told us that treatment time and recovery time were very important factors, but for Caucasian patients, it was only about 40 percent,” he claimed.

“Some of these factors are very, very different, and I think the difference in the preferences of different patients may also explain some of the differences in the treatment they ultimately choose.”

Patients are ultimately responsible for their own treatment decisions, but Chen affirmed that physicians should endeavor to make those decisions as clear as possible.

“I think it’s our job when the patient comes with cancer and seeks consultation that, I think, we have to make sure as physicians that the patient leaves with a clear understanding of their diagnosis, and I think there are, perhaps, ways that we can do a better job to address this understanding issue” he stated.

Racial disparities deduced by Chen and his team were presented earlier this month during an annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Photo by UNC School of Medicine Staff.