"Prostate cancer" written on a blackboard, with a stethoscope
Prostate Cancer

Study Shows Racial Disparity in Prostatectomy During Pandemic

By on 09/27/2021

The COVID pandemic not only had a disproportionate impact on African Americans in general, but newly published research shows that it had disparate consequences for African American men with prostate cancer, too.

A report published in July in JAMA Oncology, co-authored by Einstein urologist Serge Ginzburg, MD, showed that black patients with prostate cancer were 97% less likely to have prostate surgery during the early pandemic than white patients.

The data evaluating racial disparities in prostate cancer was collected by the Pennsylvania Urologic Regional Collaborative (PURC) of 11 urology practices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Einstein. Dr. Ginzburg is clinical director of the collaborative.

Serge Ginzburg, MD

“We look at trends of care across institutions to see if we can improve our practices,” Dr. Ginzburg says of PURC’s mission. The data collection is blind, so no direct comparisons from one hospital to another can be made.

The research compared data from 269 prostate cancer patients during two months in the early pandemic – March through May, 2020 – with that of 378 patients during the same months from the previous year.  

One of 76 black patients – 1.3% – underwent a prostatectomy to remove the diseased organ during the pandemic. Over the same time period, 50 of 193 white patients – 25.9% – had the surgery.

“However, before the pandemic, there was no difference in the rates of prostatectomy between the two races,” the JAMA paper said.

The research theorizes that the disparity was largely due to the fact that hospitals that were overburdened with COVID cases served a mostly Black population and were more likely to stop or restrict non-emergency procedures such as prostate surgery.

“Einstein took on the responsibility for handling a high volume of COVID patients during the peak of the pandemic, and like hospitals in a similar situation, this limited access to some prostate cancer diagnostics and treatments, such as prostate biopsy and robotic prostatectomy,” Dr. Ginzburg says.

“As we recover from the pandemic, we are actively advocating for more resources and more timely access for our prostate cancer patients.”

The racial disparity in prostate cancer surgery during COVID is a reminder, the study says, that although “significant gains have been made to reduce racial disparities in health care, a stressor, such as a pandemic, shows the frail nature of these gains.”

African American men have increased risk factors for prostate cancer, as do men with family members who have had the disease.

Dr. Ginzburg noted that September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month, and urged all men with higher risk to get screened, starting at the age of 45. Men with no risk factors between the ages of 55 and 70 should discuss potential screening with their doctor, he said.

“Most importantly, if you have had prostate cancer, you should urge your children and siblings to be screened at an appropriate age,” Dr. Ginzburg says.

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