Racial disparities in melanoma stage at diagnosis were less pronounced in a large cohort of Veterans Affairs patients, compared with a large cohort of U.S. men, a new analysis shows.

“The trend of a lower racial disparity in the VA in the proportion of melanomas with local disease and in the proportion of distant metastasis at presentation was observed across age groups,” wrote Martin A. Weinstock MD, PhD, and Rachel K. Kim, of the department of dermatology at Brown University, Providence, R.I., and the Center for Dermatoepidemiology at the VA Providence Healthcare System. The study was published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Melanoma was the fourth-most common cancer [diagnosed] in male VA patients in 2010,” wrote the authors, who also pointed out that “prior surveys found that 11%-13% of U.S. active-duty personnel routinely use sunscreen despite significant occupational sun exposure. Racial disparities are important concerns in the VA and elsewhere.”

To compare the stage of melanoma at presentation among White and non-Whites patients in the VA and in the general U.S. population, the researchers identified invasive cutaneous melanoma cases from 2000 to 2019 in the VA Corporate Data Warehouse and the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER).

They restricted the analysis to men because of the small proportion of women in the at-risk veteran population and excluded cases with an age younger than 20, those with unknown histology, and melanoma in situ. The researchers performed two-tailed z-tests to evaluate the difference in proportions of melanoma stages between the veteran population and the general population.

The analysis included 44,077 cases of invasive melanoma in the VA and 217,030 in SEER. Racial disparities in melanoma staging were substantially less pronounced in the VA than in SEER.

In the VA, localized disease represented 77.9% of melanomas among Whites versus 71.0% among non-Whites. But in SEER, localized disease represented 80.7% of melanomas among Whites versus 61.5% in non-Whites – over double the VA disparity (P < .0001).

Likewise, the disparity between Whites and nonwhites observed for regional or distant metastatic disease at presentation in the VA was lower than the disparity observed in SEER. For example, in the VA, distant metastatic disease at presentation represented 6.1% of melanomas among Whites versus 8.6% among non-Whites, while in SEER it represented 4.8% of melanomas among Whites versus 11.3% in non-Whites – again, more than double the VA disparity (P < .0001).

“These differences between the VA and SEER were less marked” among those older than 65 years, the researchers wrote. “Notably, the differences between VA and SEER in racial disparities among those greater than 65 in age were still significant for localized disease and for distant metastasis.”

The findings suggest that the VA “may be more effective in reducing racial disparities in melanoma stage at diagnosis, potentially due to all patients in the VA dataset having insured access to health care, regardless of socioeconomic status,” the researchers concluded. Similarly, the decreased difference in racial disparities observed in patients older than 65 across systems “may be related to the availability of Medicare to the older general populations. The authors acknowledged several study limitations, such as the predominantly elderly and male VA population, potentially underreported utilization of non-VA dermatologic care, and variation in geographic regions covered by each database.

Travis W. Blalock, MD, director of dermatologic surgery, Mohs micrographic surgery, and cutaneous oncology at Emory University, Atlanta, who was asked to comment on the work, said in an interview he would have liked to see a more detailed breakdown of the younger patients, “for those in their 30s and 40s, to see if this trend held up.”

He would have also liked to see how the data trended over time, adding, “while this, broadly, may be good news for our veterans, attributing this finding to a reduction in access disparity or some other organizational intervention seems a little premature. Regardless, Dr. Weinstock has given us, once again, information from our veterans to probe for the betterment of all patients.”

The researchers reported having no relevant disclosures and the study had no funding. Dr. Blalock disclosed that he has served as a principal investigator for Castle Biosciences.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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