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A new commentary indicates that factors like race, income, and other social factors help determine a person’s cancer risk. However, a 2016 analysis of 57 trials found that fewer than 5% reported their findings filtered by race or other socioeconomic factors.
This is important, because ignoring these factors could be causing us to miss indicators and address socioeconomic risk factors. According to the lead author, Lorraine T. Dean, ScD:
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, 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.
We’ve shared before how where you live can impact your cancer risk. There are other health impacts far beyond cancer that are affected by the inclusion of social factors in research. One study on mortality that did include socioeconomic factors found that midlife death in blue-collar white people was ascending, even as it was declining for the overall population. This allowed researchers to focus in on issues like suicide and drug-related death.
These factors are extremely important when studying causes and risk factors for cancer. The authors of the commentary recommended education about social factors in clinical trials, adding journal requirements for social factors when reporting study results, and refining cancer risk assessment tools by including social factors.
“If adopted, these measures would enable more effective design and implementation of interventions,” Dean said, “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.”