Patients from minority groups face longer wait times for potentially life-saving lungs cancer treatment compared to their white counterparts, according to the study.

Experts warn that the differences can have real consequences – the earlier treatment is started, the better the patient’s health outcomes.

Researchers on University of Virginia (UVA) Cancer Center reviewed data from more than 222,700 patients with non-small cell lung cancer across the USA.

Findings published in a scientific journal Equity in health care, showed that the mean time to initiation of radiation was 61.7 days.

Broken down by ethnicity, white patients only had to wait 60.9 days, while black patients waited 65.9 days, while for Asian patients it was 71.9 days.

A one-week delay in treatment can increase the risk of death in patients with stage I and stage II non-small cell lung cancer by 3.2 and 1.6 percent, respectively.

“Our results suggest that non-white lung cancer patients have a longer time to cancer treatment compared to white patients, and this is not limited to a specific type of treatment facility,” said senior researcher Rajesh Balkrishnan, PhD, of the UVA Cancer Center and the University of Virginia Department of Health Sciences.

“Collaboration between providers and community stakeholders and organizations is essential to increase patient access and knowledge about cancer and to overcome existing disparities in timely care for lung cancer patients.”

Researchers cite several reasons for the racial disparities, including health insurance—non-white patients are more likely to be uninsured, face greater socioeconomic barriers to care, and may be perceived by doctors as at-risk due to noncompliance treatment plans.

Minorities are also more likely to report less satisfaction with their encounters with health care providers.

Racial disparities were found in all types of hospitals, with white patients consistently having the shortest waits for treatment, while Asian patients had the longest.

“These findings shed light on the potential presence and impact of structural racism on patients seeking cancer treatment,” the researchers wrote.

“Further research into the social determinants that reinforce disparities in radiation therapy time and potential interventions in the clinical setting to improve cultural and racial sensitivity among health care providers are recommended.”