Theses Doctoral

Separate and Somewhat Equal: Racial Disparity in the Prescription of Peripheral Nerve Block and Pharmacotherapy to Treat Postoperative Breast Cancer Pain

Farrell, Nsenga Magnus

Existing research on health disparities in breast cancer is heavily focused on outcomes for poor or low-income women. Little is known about the experience of privately insured Black breast cancer patients that have moderate to high SES. As a result, the present study was conducted to learn more about their experiences. It examines differences in physician prescribing of two breast cancer pain treatments, peripheral nerve block (PNB) and opioids, for Black and White women with like levels of health insurance coverage and socioeconomic status (SES).

Three specific questions are addressed: 1. What, if any, race-based disparities exist in usage of PNBs at time of total mastectomy? 2. What, if any, race based disparities exist in the prescription of opioids for postoperative pain following total mastectomy? 3. What, if any, changes have occurred in the frequency of orders placed for PNBs and prescription opioids over time, to treat postoperative pain resulting from mastectomy?

A cross-sectional designed was used relying on an existing national dataset, Optum Clinformatics Data Mart. The study period was January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2019.

Study results revealed that while moderate to higher SES Black women have equitable access to PNB and opioids - a kind of shield from long established physician bias against Black women – this protection is quite porous. They still do not have open and ready access to PNB as a more advanced pain treatment. Nor do they have assurance that they are protected from the overprescribing of opioids, a class of drugs with serious and well-known safety risks. Therefore, on the surface, it appears that equity and racial inclusion are hallmarks of physician prescribing of postoperative breast cancer pain treatment. However, further interrogation reveals that ‘separate and somewhat equal’ is a more accurate characterization of their prescribing practices, based both on race and SES.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Health and Behavior Studies
Thesis Advisors
Odlum, Michelle L.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
November 9, 2022