Research Alert

Background: Hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT) is an expensive and complex treatment regimen that can be curative in many diseases of the bone marrow, including malignant and non-malignant conditions. The introduction of the Affordable Care Act increased access to potential candidates and removed or reduced many barriers previously identified in the literature, however, racial disparities continue to persist. As HSCT expands its utilization and indications, there is a continued need to understand the multifactorial barriers which lead to inequalities in transplant referral, utilization, and survival. The objective of this systematic review is to summarize these racial disparities, expand the current understanding of the literature, and determine whether the increases in insurance status from Medicaid expansion have played a role in HSCT utilization and survival rates by race.

Methods: We explored studies based on retrospective reviews, literature reviews, and focus groups with the key-terms of ‘race’, ‘hematopoietic stem cell transplant’, and ‘disparities’. The included studies were extracted from Cochrane and Medline databases. After screening for relevancy to research aims and objectives, 10 articles were utilized for background information and discussion, while 30 articles were categorized into main groups of outcomes, chiefly, (I) access/referral to transplant and (II) survival.

Results: Eight of the eleven retrospective reviews found substantial variation in access to HSCT by ethnic minorities (Black, Hispanic, or Asian) when compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Thirteen of the fourteen publications found racial disparities in either overall survival, progression free survival, treatment related mortality, relapse, or combinations of these outcomes. The majority of the studies evaluated African American patients with six of eight studies showing significantly elevated mortality compared to Caucasian patients.

Discussion: Substantial variation exists in access to HSCT, particularly in black patients. Having less generous insurance coverage was previously hypothesized to reduce the likelihood of HSCT utilization. Studies performed after full implementation of the Affordable Care Act continue to show poorer survival among ethnic minorities, particularly black patients, despite this increased coverage. Perceived racial bias and health-related stigma, as well as physician decisions and delay in referral process are likely contributing factors.

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