New research has uncovered a concerning gap in the time taken to diagnose myeloma between ethnic groups, with black people experiencing longer waits for a diagnosis than white people.

The study by the University of Exeter examined data from the world’s largest primary care database to investigate ethnic differences in the diagnostic interval of people diagnosed with cancer.

The research team looked at data from patients over 40 who were diagnosed with one of seven cancers (breast, lung, prostate, colorectal, oesophagogastric, myeloma, and ovarian) in a primary care setting between 2006 and 2016. Of the 126,627 eligible participants, 3183 were diagnosed with myeloma.

Data sources included demographic and primary care diagnosis data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) with linkage to Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) and the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) cancer registry data.

Findings showed that black patients diagnosed with myeloma, which is two-three times more common in black people than white people, had a median wait time of over one month longer than white people.

Dr Sophie Castell, the chief executive of Myeloma UK, said myeloma patients in general, and black patients in particular, experience some of the longest waits for a diagnosis in the country. The disparity will probably worsen because of the pandemic, she added.

“The longer it takes to be diagnosed, the more likely patients are to suffer avoidable yet irreversible, lifelong complications like broken bones and spines,” she added. “This is absolutely unacceptable. Everyone deserves the same opportunity to get a timely diagnosis and live well for as long as possible.”

Myeloma exerts a severe toll on the quality of life of all patients, no matter who they are or when they are diagnosed. However, Myeloma UK’s ‘A Life Worth Living’ report shows that the effects are most severe in those patients whose diagnosis is delayed, and the longer the delay, the more severe the consequences.

The findings from our study “help explain” why ethnic minorities “have poorer outcomes for some cancers and report worse experiences of healthcare”, said the University of Exeter researcher Tanimola Martins. “The differences in diagnosis times are unlikely to be the sole explanation for the ethnic variation in cancer outcomes. Nonetheless, addressing such differences will help to improve trust and care experiences among ethnic minority groups”.