[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 4-Oct-2011
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Contact: Gina DiGravio
gina.digravio@bmc.org
617-638-8480
Boston University Medical Center

Study finds non-English speaking head and neck cancer patients have significantly worse outcomes

(Boston) - Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have found that among advanced head and neck cancer (HNC) patients receiving radiation-based treatment (RT), being non-English speaking (NES) was a more significant predictor of treatment outcome than being of non-white race. The findings, to be presented at the 53rd annual American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting in Miami, Florida, suggest that language barriers may play a role in health-care disparities and that further interpreter/translation services are warranted in the care of such diverse patients.

The United States has tremendous ethnic and linguistic diversity. According to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey, minorities comprise 26 percent of the population, and nearly 20 percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home. By 2050, it is projected that minorities will comprise about half of the US population, with a similar increase in individuals speaking a language other than English at home.

According to the researchers cultural disparities have been identified within cancer care in the United States. The purpose of this study was to evaluate how race and language affect treatment outcomes in patients treated with curative intent radiotherapy in head and neck cancer.

To do this, the researchers performed a retrospective study of 132 individuals (68.2 percent male, 31.8 percent female) with non-metastatic and non-recurrent HNC, with no prior history cancer who underwent curative intent RT. Analyses were conducted to assess differences between patient, treatment and tumor characteristics by race and language spoken.

"Interestingly, we showed that while race does impact cancer outcomes, non-English speaking patients had significantly worse outcomes," explained co-author Minh Tam Truong, MD, Clinical Director of Radiation Oncology at BMC and assistant professor of radiation oncology at BUSM. "It is important for health-care providers to be aware of these differences and take steps to ensure open communication in directing cancer treatment," she added.

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