Reduced colon cancer survival rates among African Americans remain difficult to explain, according to findings from University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) published in an American Cancer Society journal and reported by Newswise.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 496 former UAB Hospital colon cancer surgery patients. In particular, the scientists evaluated the role both BMI (body mass index) and coexisting medical conditions (co-morbidity) might have on survival rates.

Although these two factors usually explain poor survival rates for all colon cancer patients, researchers found that they did not account for African Americans’ increased risk of death from the condition.

The study’s data revealed that 34 percent of African Americans were more likely to have died by the end of the study than whites. In addition, being underweight increased the chance of death among advanced-stage cancer patients, and being overweight decreased the risk of death in stage IV cancer patients.

These findings dispelled previous beliefs that high BMI and co-morbidity were the overall cause of higher colon cancer death rates in blacks.

“That was the surprising finding for us —that a high BMI was actually protective in patients with advanced-stage disease,” said Upender Manne, PhD, associate professor in UAB’s Department of Pathology and the study’s lead author. “Obviously, BMI and co-morbidity are not the answers we need to explain the survival disparity in colon cancer. Something else is going on.”

Manne explained that other reasons being examined for the racial disparity include genetic variation, tumor characteristics and access to medical care.

Read RH’s “ Spotting Cancer” for more about the importance of cancer screenings.