Racial disparities in cancer treatment and outcomes are common and well-documented. According to a new study published in JAMA Oncology, minority patients with cancer also experience disparities in the cultural competency of their physician, including access to physicians who understand their culture. The study evaluated patient data from 2244 adult cancer survivors participating in the 2017 National Health Interview Survey. Results from the study found that nearly half of nonwhite minority cancer survivors indicated that it was somewhat or very important for their physician to share or understand their culture, but only 65.3% were able to see such physicians. The authors identified the limited diversity of the oncology workforce as one factor influencing these outcomes. Having a physician who shared or understood their culture was less important to non-Hispanic white respondents, though these patients reported greater access to physicians who shared their culture.
An important finding from this study that was not emphasized in this publication is that approximately 20% of the patients, regardless of whether they were in minority cultures or not, indicated they were never asked about their beliefs or opinions regarding care.
High Altitude: This report serves as a reminder that cultural differences can have a major impact on how patients view treatment options, which might affect their compliance, follow ups, and agreement on proper therapy. It is important that patients have access to physicians who understand and respect their cultural beliefs, whether in the setting of clinical practice or clinical trials.
Ground Level: This report highlights a shortcoming in current cancer care and is something to be mindful of when interacting with patients. Differences in culture can have a major impact on a patient’s perception of care and treatment options. While minority patients reported differences in access to physicians who share or understand their cultural beliefs, they reported no difference in the level of respectful treatment and easily understandable health information available to them, an important accomplishment for the medical community.