Black and Hispanic children with cancer who are admitted to pediatric intensive care units for cancer treatment are more likely to die, compared with white children, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, reports Michigan State University.

Led by Michigan State University and Spectrum Health researchers, the analysis included data from a nationwide pediatric database covering 12,232 patients and 23,128 intensive care admissions between 2009 and 2018.

Following hospital admissions, 8.5% of African-American and 8.1% of Hispanic children living with cancer died, compared with 6.3% of white children.

In addition to genetics and environmental exposures, researchers suspect that socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and lack of access to primary care, play a significant role in the higher death rates among minority children with cancer.

Black and Hispanic children are two to three times more likely to live in poverty. Because many of these children lack access to a primary care doctor, they are likely to be in more advanced stages of cancer or critical illness when admitted to pediatric intensive care units.

Researchers also found differences in death rates according to region. Compared with white children, Hispanic children were more likely to die at higher rates in Western states and Black children had higher death rates in Southern states. Experts attribute these findings to new immigrants in the West and a larger number of Black people living in rural parts of the South. Both newer Latino immigrants and people living in the rural South tend to be poorer and have less access to insurance and medical care than more established immigrant populations and people living in cities and suburbs.

“Health is more than treating a disease,” Surender Rajasekaran, MD, MPH, a physician and assistant professor in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, a medical director of research at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and he study’s senior author.

“Health is understanding where our patients are coming from and what their reality is. We need to help our patients overcome health care disparities. In a way, it would be nice to stop writing these papers and talk about how to solve this problem.”

For related coverage, read “Why Are Black and Latino Children More Likely to Die of Certain Cancers?” and “Post-Diagnosis Disparities Drive Poorer Outcomes for Pediatric Black and Hispanic Brain Cancer Patients.”