Fewer than 5% of 2016 breast cancer studies included race, socioeconomic factors

Studies examining breast cancer risk and treatment outcomes are not adequately incorporating race and socioeconomic factors, such as education level and economic status, according to a Johns Hopkins release.

This comes despite a recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health commentary in Cancer Causes & Control that outlines evidence pointing to the close relationship between an individual’s situation and susceptibility to cancer. The authors further claim these factors should be included in all studies and risk assessments that inform clinical care.

"We've been missing opportunities to understand and reduce disparities in breast cancer risk and outcomes," said lead author Lorraine T. Dean, ScD, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. "Simply put, not enough is being done to understand how race, income level and other social factors tie in to cancer susceptibility."

“A lot of scientists don’t want to deal with race or socioeconomic position in their studies because they think those characteristics aren’t modifiable,” Dean said. “But they can actually help identify factors that are modifiable. You can’t change your genes, for example, but we still do genetic studies because they illuminate pathways we can change with medicines or other interventions.”

Dean and colleagues recommended increasing educational awareness on the important role social factors have in clinical research by incorporating requirements for data on these factors into journal guidelines and modifying cancer risk assessment tools to include socioeconomic factors.

“If adopted, these measures would enable more effective design and implementation of interventions,” Dean said in the release, “and would help eliminate breast cancer racial and socioeconomic disparities by accounting for the social and environmental contexts in which cancer patients live and are treated.”

“A lot of scientists don’t want to deal with race or socioeconomic position in their studies because they think those characteristics aren’t modifiable,” Dean said. “But they can actually help identify factors that are modifiable. You can’t change your genes, for example, but we still do genetic studies because they illuminate pathways we can change with medicines or other interventions.”

 

Dean and colleagues recommended increasing educational awareness on the important role social factors have in clinical research by incorporating requirements for data on these factors into journal guidelines and modifying cancer risk assessment tools to include socioeconomic factors.

 

“If adopted, these measures would enable more effective design and implementation of interventions,” Dean said in the release, “and would help eliminate breast cancer racial and socioeconomic disparities by accounting for the social and environmental contexts in which cancer patients live and are treated.”