Disparities in Access to Radiation Therapy by Race and Ethnicity in the United States With Focus on American Indian/Alaska Native People


      Striking disparities in access to radiation therapy (RT) exist, especially among racial and ethnic–minority patients. We analyzed census block group data to evaluate differences in travel distance to RT as a function of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and rurality.


      The Directory of Radiotherapy Centers provided the addresses of facilities containing linear accelerators for RT. We classified block groups as majority (≥ 50%) American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), black, white, Asian, no single racial majority, or Hispanic regardless of race. We used the Area Deprivation Index to classify deprivation and Rural-Urban Commuting Area codes to classify rurality. Generalized linear mixed models tested associations between these factors and distance to nearest RT facility.


      Median distance to nearest RT facility was 72 miles in AI/AN–majority block groups, but 4 to 7 miles in block groups with non-AI/AN majorities. Multivariable models estimated that travel distances in AI/AN–majority block groups were 39 to 41 miles longer than in areas with non-AI/AN majorities. Travel distance was 1.3 miles longer in the more deprived areas versus less deprived areas and 16 to 32 miles longer in micropolitan, small town, and rural areas versus metropolitan areas.


      Cancer patients in block groups with AI/AN–majority populations, nonmetropolitan location, and low socioeconomic status experience substantial travel disparities in access to RT. Future research with more granular community- and individual-level data should explore the many other known barriers to access to cancer care and their relationship to the barriers posed by distance to RT care.


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