New study explores race in the association of cytopenia and cancer death

January 12, 2023 by Kate Strotmeyer

Diego Adrianzen-Herrera, MD

Cytopenia - a condition in which there is a lower-than-normal number of blood cells - is a risk factor for cancer death through conditions like chronic inflammation and clonal hematopoiesis (when a certain type of cell starts making cells with the same genetic mutation). The condition is more prevalent in Black Americans compared to White Americans, but the relationship of cytopenia and racial disparities in cancer mortality is unknown. 

In a new study published in Cancer Medicine, University of Vermont Cancer Center members Diego Adrianzen Herrera, MD and Neil Zakai, MD, and colleagues aimed to determine whether cytopenia was a contributing factor to racial cancer death disparities. The study found that cytopenia is a risk factor for cancer death with stronger association in Black compared to White people, however cytopenia is not a mediator in the Black-to-White disparity in cancer mortality.

The data shows that low cellular counts in peripheral blood samples are associated with an increased risk of death from cancer, particularly from blood cancers. Further, the association between low blood cells and death from cancer is stronger in Black subjects compared to White subjects; however, low blood cell counts are not an immediate reason for the higher rate of cancer death among Black subjects. 

These findings are relevant to guide future research aimed at identifying the causes of racial disparities in cancer death by pinpointing the factors associated with higher frequency of blood cell count abnormalities among Black people and could help identify mechanisms for racial disparities in cancer mortality.