This paper reviews the state of the art in analyzing race, social factors, and economic factors in cancer research, with an emphasis on prostate cancer and the role of socioeconomic status (SES) in racial differences in mortality. It analyzes the quality of articles in the literature that assess the role of SES in cancer mortality.
English-language titles were identified using MEDLINE with publication dates from mid-1985 through July 1994. Articles in the references of these articles were also included in the final selection, based originally on title and ultimately on content, dating back to 1978. Articles that included SES information and distinguished between whites and African-Americans were chosen, resulting in a final selection of 21 articles. Articles are summarized with consideration of five criteria considered minimal requirements of a well-designed study of the role of race in cancer mortality: (1) SES measure(s) should be on an individual level, not census level; (2) SES should be controlled for when making comparisons between whites and blacks; (3) SES should include at least (individual level) measures of income and education; (4) sample sizes are sufficient for the relevant populations; and (5) specific cancer sites should be studied separately.
Of the articles reviewed, only two meet the minimum standards, neither of which studied prostate cancer. It is not clear whether observed racial differences in prostate cancer are directly attributable to race or reflect underlying social factor differences between whites and African-Americans.
In the future, specific characteristics of SES should be measured at the individual level; there is a need for expansion and standardization of data in terms of social and economic content; other methodological advances are needed in modeling to take into consideration the influence of SES in outcome research related to cancer. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.