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Bitterman DS, Bona K, Laurie F, et al. Race Disparities in Proton Radiotherapy Use for Cancer Treatment in Patients Enrolled in Children’s Oncology Group Trials. JAMA Oncol. 2020;6(9):1465–1468. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2259
Proton radiotherapy is a high-cost, limited resource, for which the most robust evidence-based indications are in pediatric cancers owing to its ability to reduce long-term adverse effects compared with photon therapy.1-3 Most proton radiotherapy facilities are located in metropolitan areas or at major academic centers, and therefore require physician referral to the center for treatment. In addition, radiotherapy involves daily treatment for up to 8 weeks, requiring patients to potentially relocate to obtain treatment. Owing to the potential barriers to proton radiotherapy access, we aimed to assess the association of race and socioeconomic factors with proton use in patients with solid malignant diseases enrolled on Children’s Oncology Group (COG) prospective trials.
Data were provided by the COG. Patients were included if they received external beam radiotherapy on COG solid tumor prospective trials that allowed physicians to choose the radiation modality (eg, proton or photon radiotherapy) and were closed to accrual as of May 2018. Patients treated after 2010 were included. Patients in trials that only allowed emergency palliative radiotherapy or total body irradiation, not from the United States, or with missing radiotherapy modality were excluded. The race/ethnicity data were generally provided by the clinician or clinical research coordinator. Race was categorized as White non-Hispanic, White Hispanic, Black, Other, and unknown. The Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center institutional review board approved this study.
Univariate and multivariable logistic regression models identified factors associated with radiation modality. P < .05 was considered statistically significant. Analyses were conducted using SAS statistical software (version 9.4, SAS Institute). The analysis was performed between July and December of 2019.
The final cohort included 1240 patients. From 2010 to 2018, 1054 of 1240 (85%) and 186 of 1240 (15%) patients received photon and proton radiotherapy, respectively. Table 1 shows baseline characteristics by radiotherapy modality.4 In univariate analysis, Black pediatric patients were less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than non-Hispanic White patients (OR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.22-0.75; P = .004) (Table 2).4 Proton radiotherapy use varied by enrolling institution location and was less frequent among patients enrolled on non-CNS vs CNS trials, patients with shorter distance between enrolling and radiotherapy institution, and patients with metastatic disease (Table 2). Insurance type, neighborhood-poverty level, and gender were not associated with radiation modality.
All factors significant on univariate analysis were significant on multivariable analysis, except CNS trial enrollment (Table 2). After adjusting for enrolling institution location, distance to radiotherapy facility, and presence of metastatic disease, Black patients remained less likely to receive proton radiotherapy compared with non-Hispanic White patients (OR, 0.35; 95% CI, 0.17-0.72; P = .004) (Table 2). Of note, 2-way interaction terms between covariates were tested in the multivariable analysis, and none were statistically significant.
Black pediatric patients were less likely to receive proton radiotherapy, despite being enrolled on national prospective trials in which treatment is highly standardized. Measures of socioeconomic status, including household-level (insurance) and area-level poverty, were not associated with proton radiotherapy. In addition, location of enrolling institution was associated with proton radiotherapy and patients treated with proton radiotherapy traveled further for treatment, possibly reflecting sparse, unequal distribution of proton radiotherapy centers. Notably, the number of proton radiotherapy centers rose from 9 to 28 during the study period. We controlled for primary site (CNS vs non-CNS), but not for malignant disease (including cancers with differences in incidence by race, eg, Ewing sarcoma), due to concern for overfitting.
Limitations of this study include indirect measurements of socioeconomic status, lack of granular geographic information, and limited power owing to the relatively fewer patients who received proton radiotherapy. Although prior epidemiologic studies have shown income and insurance status, but not race, to be associated with proton radiotherapy use, these included patients from an earlier era when few proton centers were open.5,6 The reported racial disparities are concerning, particularly as this cohort represents a selected population of patients treated in prospective national clinical trials. Our results suggest that a racial disparity in proton radiotherapy use may exist; additional confirmatory investigation is needed.
Accepted for Publication: April 28, 2020.
Corresponding Author: Daphne A. Haas-Kogan, MD, Department of Radiation Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Ave, DA-16-22, Boston, MA 02115 (email@example.com).
Published Online: August 6, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2259
Author Contributions: Dr Bitterman, Ms Kao, and Dr London had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Bitterman, Bona, Terezakis, London, Haas-Kogan.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Bitterman, Laurie, Kao, Terezakis, London, Haas-Kogan.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Bitterman, Bona, Terezakis, London, Haas-Kogan.
Statistical analysis: Bitterman, Kao, London.
Obtained funding: Haas-Kogan.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Laurie, Haas-Kogan.
Supervision: Terezakis, London, Haas-Kogan.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Bitterman reported personal fees from Agios Pharmaceuticals outside the submitted work. Dr Bona reported grants from the National Institutes of Health, grants from Charles Hood Foundation, and grants from Family Reach Foundation during the conduct of the study. Dr Terezakis reported grants from Elekta Industries and grants from ASELL outside the submitted work. Dr London reported personal fees from ArQule, Inc; personal fees from American Association for Cancer Research; and personal fees from Jubilant Draximage outside the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: The data were obtained from the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), which is supported by NCTN Operations Center Grant U10CA180886 and NCTN Statistics & Data Center Grant U10CA180899 and IROC Grant U24CA180803.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: These funding sources supported collection and management of the data.
Additional Contributions: We thank the following individuals from the COG for their invaluable assistance with collecting data for this project: Julia Lund, Jin Piao, PhD, Jing Tian, MS, Mark Krailo, PhD, Yueh-Yun Chi, PhD, and Arlene Naranjo, PhD, We would also like to thank Arzu Onar, PhD, Ayal Aizer, MD, Maryam Fouladi, MD, MSc, Steven Dubois, MD, and Richard Gorlick, MD, for their invaluable assistance with this project.