How Racial Segregation Could Be Linked To Lung Cancer

African-Americans living in highly segregated counties are at significantly elevated risk of dying from lung cancer, according to the results from a new study.

African-Americans already suffer from the highest incidence of lung cancer in the United States. But as the New York Times reports, a study published in JAMA Surgery finds that black Americans in highly segregated areas are 20 percent more likely to die from the disease compared to those who live in the least segregated regions:

The study drew on federal mortality data from that period, and segregation data from about a third of United States counties that had African-American populations large enough to measure. About 28 percent of Americans live in counties with low segregation, 40 percent in counties with moderate segregation and 32 percent in counties with high segregation.

The gap in outcomes persisted even after accounting for differences in smoking rates and socio-economic status, Dr. Hayanga said.

Dr. David Chang, director of outcomes research at the University of California San Diego Department of Surgery, who wrote an accompanying editorial, said he hoped that the study would focus attention on the environmental factors involved in the stark disparities in health outcomes in the United States because they lend themselves to change through policy. Medical researchers tend to focus on factors that are harder to change, like the genetics and the behaviors of individuals.

This trend held true even when controlling for smoking rates and socioeconomic status, implying that other regional factors played into the discrepancy. While the JAMA report doesn’t delve into the causes behind the mortality rate disparity, other studies on American segregation have found that, in highly segregated locales, a larger minority population corresponded with significantly less access to surgical and emergency medical care. That data alone is not conclusive, but it does suggest that stratified access to health care remains an enormous hindrance to public health — particularly for people of color.