Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Hospitals that primarily serve people of color are less likely to provide relief from the stress of a serious illness, regardless of the person's race, a new study says.
Only about 22 percent of white patients with metastatic cancer received palliative care, according to research published Friday in JAMA Network Open.
"We knew that black and Hispanic cancer patients receive palliative care at lower rates than white patients, but until now, we didn't know why. Was it just that doctors were not offering these services to their black and Hispanic patients? Or is there some other factor at play?" said Alexander Cole, a researcher at the Center for Surgery and Public Health at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a news release.
Overall, the study included more than 600,000 individuals with metastatic cancer and found that only 21.7 percent received palliative care. That includes 20.0 percent of black patients and 15.9 percent of Hispanic patients.
"There is a growing role for palliative care, and most physicians accept that many patients in the late stages of cancer should be referred to palliative care," said Quoc-Dien Trinh, a physician at the CSPH at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The study focused on patients with prostate, non-small cell lung, colon and breast cancers, which are four of the deadliest cancers.
Palliative care is usually administered to patients who have received a diagnosis for a life-threatening illness. Some care techniques include pain relief, while others are more emotional and spiritual. Palliative care also works to emotionally soothe a patient's family members during the illness.
These findings come even after some studies showed that cancer patients receive more palliative care than patients with other serious illnesses.
"Our mission is to reduce inequity in health care, and the first step in doing so is to raise awareness of these disparities," Trinh said. "These findings suggest that there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in receipt of palliative care for patients with metastatic cancer and that these disparities are largely accounted for by the site of a patient's care. Strategies that focus on improving palliative care use at minority-serving hospitals may be an effective strategy to increase the receipt of palliative care for minorities."