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African-Americans and women are less likely to undergo bone marrow transplantation to treat their cancer, according to a study published in Cancer (2010 May 24 [Epub ahead of print]).

To investigate why disparities exist in access to bone marrow transplantation, a team of researchers estimated the annual incidence of leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma in the United States in people aged 70 years or older. In addition, information on hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT) use was obtained from 1997-2002 data from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.

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According to background information provided in the study, HCT is a relatively new treatment that is costly and generally requires lengthy, intensive hospitalization and prolonged follow-up care.

The results of the analysis revealed that whites are 40% more likely to use HCT to treat leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma compared to African-Americans. Additionally, African-Americans were found to have lower rates of HCT using either their own bone marrow cells or the cells from a donor, which the authors suggest indicates that donor availability cannot fully explain the racial differences seen in the treatment with HCT.

“There is a shortage of bone marrow donors who are of African-American race. This study may raise the awareness of becoming a bone marrow donor in the minority community,” said Thomas Joshua of the Medical College of Georgia and one of the study’s researchers.

The researchers also found that men are 10% more likely than women to receive HCT using their own bone marrow cells for reasons that cannot be explained by age or cancer severity.

“Although the reason for this gap cannot be explained by this study, it suggests that the health care system in the United States should endeavor to improve access for all patients while waiting for further studies to better explain the differences and suggest better strategies to reduce the disparities,” the authors noted. ONA