The Association of Oncology Provider Density With Black-White Disparities in Cancer Mortality in US Counties

Yuehan Zhang, Kathryn M. Leifheit, Kimberley T. Lee, Roland J. Thorpe, Darrell J. Gaskin, Lorraine T. Dean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Black-White racial disparities in cancer mortality are well-documented in the US. Given the estimated shortage of oncologists over the next decade, understanding how access to oncology care might influence cancer disparities is of considerable importance. We aim to examine the association between oncology provider density in a county and Black-White cancer mortality disparities. Methods: An ecological study of 1048 US counties was performed. Oncology provider density was estimated using the 2013 National Plan and Provider Enumeration System data. Black:White cancer mortality ratio was calculated using 2014-2018 age-standardized cancer mortality rates from State Cancer Profiles. Linear regression with covariate adjustment was constructed to assess the association of provider density with (1) Black:White cancer mortality ratio, and (2) cancer mortality rates overall, and separately among Black and White persons. Results: The mean Black:White cancer mortality ratio was 1.12, indicating that cancer mortality rate among Black persons was on average 12% higher than that among White persons. Oncology provider density was significantly associated with greater cancer mortality disparities: every 5 additional oncology providers per 100 000 in a county was associated with a.02 increase in the Black:White cancer mortality ratio (95% CI:.007 to.03); however, the unexpected finding may be explained by further analysis showing that the relationship between oncology provider density and cancer mortality was different by race group. Every 5 additional oncologists per 100 000 was associated with a 1.6 decrease per 100 000 in cancer mortality rates among White persons (95% CI: −3.0 to −.2), whereas oncology provider density was not associated with cancer mortality among Black persons. Conclusion: Greater oncology provider density was associated with significantly lower cancer mortality among White persons, but not among Black persons. Higher oncology provider density alone may not resolve cancer mortality disparities, thus attention to ensuring equitable care is critical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCancer Control
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024


  • cancer
  • mortality
  • oncology provider density
  • racial disparities
  • workforce

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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