Black patients with colon cancer in the Black/White Cancer Survival Study were found to have a poorer survival than white patients. More advanced-stage disease at diagnosis was the primary determinant, accounting for 60% of the excess mortality. After adjusting for stage, factors such as poverty, other socioeconomic conditions, and treatment did not further explain the remaining survival deficit. This study examined the aggressiveness of colon tumors in blacks and whites to explore its role in the racial survival differences. Tumor characteristics of 703 cases of newly diagnosed invasive colon adenocarcinoma were centrally evaluated by a gastrointestinal pathologist, blinded in regard to the age, race, and sex of the patients. Blacks were less likely to have poorly differentiated (grade 3) tumors [odds ratio (OR), 0.44; 95% confidence interval, 0.22-0.88] and lymphoid reaction (OR, 0.49; 95% confidence interval, 0.26-0.90) when compared with whites. These black/white (B/W) differences remained statistically significant after adjusting for age, sex, metropolitan area, summary stage, socioeconomic status, body mass index, and health care access and utilization. In addition, blacks were less likely to have high-grade (grade 3) nuclear atypia, mitotic activity, and tubule formation, although these ORs did not reach a statistical significance level of 0.05. Similar B/W differences were observed for patients with advanced disease but not with early stage. Comparison by anatomical subsite showed that blacks had statistically significantly better differentiated tumors for cancers of the proximal and transverse colon but not for the distal. No racial differences were found for blood vessel and lymphatic invasion, necrosis, fibrosis, and mucinous type of histology. The findings, therefore, are the opposite of those hypothesized. After adjusting for stage, more aggressive tumor characteristics do not explain the adverse survival differential in blacks. This suggests that there may be racial differences in environmental exposure, and that the intensity and mode of delivery of carcinogen insult as well as host susceptibility may differ by race and anatomical subsite. Future studies should explore the B/W differences in tumor biology using molecular markers that precede the conventional histological parameters evaluated here.

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