Nov 19, 2021
Dr. Shannon Westin, Dr. Kirsten Beyer and Dr. Jennifer Griggs discuss how mortgage lending bias and residential segregation intersect with cancer disparities and survival outcomes.
SHANNON WESTIN: Hello, everyone. My name is Shannon Westin, and I'm an Associate Professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine. And I currently serve as the Social Media Editor for the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
And we're starting a brand new podcast series to try to bring really exciting research that's being published in the JCO to you, and I'm so excited to kick off this series with a group of very accomplished women who are covering something that I don't think a lot of us don't know very much about. So I'm really excited to learn a ton over this next few minutes.
So it's my pleasure to introduce Dr. Kirsten Beyer, who is an Associate Professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Institute for Health and Equity as well as the Director of the PhD program in Public and Community Health at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
We are also joined by Dr. Jennifer Griggs, who's a Professor the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology Oncology, as well as a member of the Institute of Health Care Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan. She does predominantly practice taking care of women with breast cancer. Welcome, doctors.
JENNIFER GRIGGS: Thank you.
KIRSTEN BEYER: Thank you very much.
SHANNON WESTIN: So we're talking today about the manuscript "Mortgage Lending Bias and Breast Cancer Survival Among Older Women in the United States" that Dr. Beyer published just this month in the JCO. In addition, Dr. Griggs and her colleague Dr. Pleasant were invited to participate in an editorial called "Contemporary Residential Segregation and Cancer Disparities."
So let's get into to what was covered. So I think for me, the lowest hanging fruit here, Dr. Beyer, is understanding what exactly is redlining, because that was one of the critical exposure that you were assessing amongst these women with breast cancer.
KIRSTEN BEYER: Thank you, Dr. Westin. Yes, redlining-- I think most people think about redlining as being a historical practice, where mortgage lenders would essentially draw red lines around particular neighborhoods and then not lend mortgages in those areas, regardless of whether or not the applicant for that mortgage was otherwise qualified. So it's generally thought of as a historical practice.
But what we've done in this study is to look at some more contemporary data and create a new measure that we think represents contemporary redlining, maybe not in the legal sense in terms of housing discrimination. But this measure represents essentially the odds ratio of denial of a mortgage application for a property in a local neighborhood as compared to the metropolitan area as a whole. So we're really looking to see which areas of our US cities are systematically denied mortgage applications. By denying those mortgage applications, they are suffering from disinvestment, and I would argue structural racism is guiding a lot of that practice.
SHANNON WESTIN: So can you explore that a little bit more with us? And how do you find that type of data? Where do you get this information about these denied mortgages? How do you get into the different covariates like race, ethnicity, things like that?
KIRSTEN BEYER: Sure. So I think a little history lesson is important first. Between the historic practice of redlining and today, there have been a number of major laws that have been passed in the United States really to try to overcome housing discrimination. Some of the most important ones are-- in the Civil Rights Act of 1968, there was something called the Fair Housing Act, and that act prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, and national origin. And since then, they've added a few more protected categories.
And then right after the Civil Rights Act of 1968, there was something passed called the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. And this act was essentially to bring transparency to mortgage lending in this country. The idea was that we were requiring public disclosure of loan-level information about mortgages that were lent in the country. And the goal was to shed light on lending patterns, including those that could be discriminatory.
And so the HMDA data-- it's commonly referred to as "hum-duh." That HMDA data has been collected then since 1975. And that database evolves over time, but we use that data for 2007 to '13 to really try to understand what are the mortgage lending patterns in our US cities in terms of their spatial distribution.
And so there are a number of covariates that we were able to control for there. There are some things that we're not able to control for. I'm excited that the HMDA database has recently improved, and there are some new variables that are going to become available in the coming years.
So what we did with the HMDA database was to calculate an index of redlining, so an odds ratio of denial of a mortgage application for a property in a specific neighborhood compared to all the properties across the metropolitan area. And so it's an area-level measure, a neighborhood-level measure.
And then we put that measure into a statistical model to see what happens to women diagnosed with breast cancer if they live in redlined areas compared to if they live in other areas. And so we were able to control for a number of other factors, including race, including tumor characteristics, age, stage at diagnosis, and then to see what is the added effect of redlining over and above the things that we already know impact survival.
So what we found was that women living in redlined areas in the United States were more likely to die faster after breast cancer diagnosis than women living in other areas. We also found that among people living in redlined areas, there was a discrepancy in terms of the race and ethnicity of those women. So 79% of Black women, 57% of Hispanic women, and 34% of white women lived in redlined areas in our sample.
SHANNON WESTIN: That's so interesting, because I think we've all read and seen across a number of different cancer types how race and ethnicity can be associated with worse outcomes. So I think you're starting to scratch the surface of why that might be. Now, do we think that is there an association with other factors like socioeconomic status or insurance or anything like that?
KIRSTEN BEYER: Yes, I think those are really good questions. Not all databases contain all of the information we would like. But in SEER-Medicare, which is the database we use, we know that all of the women have health insurance because it's a linked database with cancer registry data and then Medicare claims data. So health insurance wasn't a factor here, but we certainly know that it could be a factor in a larger sample of women across the age spectrum.
And I think when you get into questions of socioeconomic status, you also have to think about, as opposed to statistically controlling away the effect of socioeconomic status, what is the mediating effect? Or what is the explanation? What factors explain the relationship between redlining and breast cancer survival? So I think that's where we'll see a lot of the important explanations for how does redlining contribute to survival.
SHANNON WESTIN: Thank you. I think you nailed it right there, because finding a problem is, of course, important, but then what do we do next?
Dr. Griggs, I thought your editorial was just so great at providing context for this issue, and I was wondering if you could expand a little bit more on this idea around residential segregation and how it impacts outcomes for these patients.
JENNIFER GRIGGS: Thank you very much, and thanks for including me on this great podcast. It's so important to understand that place matters more than race, and we've known this for quite a while. So that area-level factors are associated with environment-- for example, pollutants, safe water, safe places to play, safe places to exercise, transportation fragility, for example, a robust public transport system.
We know that neighborhoods that are in redlined areas are more likely to be policed in different ways, which takes children from school being suspended at higher rates. There's less educational investment, but Dr. Beyer mentioned this disinvestment in neighborhoods basically has shutters all the way down. It shutters from childhood all the way to how we age and access to healthy food.
We know redlined areas are associated with poor markers of diabetes control, and if you take somebody from an area that's a poor neighborhood that's segregated and give them a voucher to live in a more affluent area, that markers of diabetes improve and weight goes down.
So just to think about this, that the impact of where we live affects things that we think of as personal behavior-- like, what we eat or how we control our diabetes. There are, of course, implications for access to high-quality health centers when we think about people sort of locked into certain neighborhoods, all that goes along with that, including wealth.
Wealth is probably one of the biggest predictors of health and not being able to have the wealth associated with home ownership decreases economic stability. And we know these things like allostatic load or stress, sometimes called wear-and-tear effects, are associated with things like tumor biology and breast cancer. We see more triple-negative breast cancers in areas where there's more allostatic load.
So imagine, we think about race as this fixed-- sometimes people even construe race as a biologic construct, when really, of course, it's a social construct that has systematically-- our systems have been put in place so that even the legislation, Fair Housing Act, can't be overcome, as shown in Doctor Beyer and colleague's paper. In other words, despite legislation, we continue to see mortgage lending bias, which we've termed contemporary redlining. Yet, we think of race as this fixed, deterministic way of describing people and explaining differences and outcome.
So this kind of work is really important when we can show the effect of place independent of race and if we can show that there has been systematic construction of something so important as residential segregation. What this does is it drives us to really a call to action.
A lot of ideas in there, but basically, showing where people live being associated with their outcome in breast cancer-- and this has been shown in other cancers, as well-- through pathways like economic stability and wealth, wear and tear on the body, and then to acknowledge the sad truth that things have been intentionally constructed structures.
SHANNON WESTIN: I mean, I think this is really in line with a lot of what we're learning about our society and our country, the way we were educated when we were younger was that we did not always hear the truth about what really went down as this country was built. I think that you really touched on a lot of very critical points.
And I think for me, a lot of times when we read about these racial and ethnic disparities, I feel like it often comes down to where people are like, oh well, it's just access to care, or lack of insurance, or they're just not focusing on these things. They're not educated. They don't know that these things are important.
But what I hear the two of you saying is, it goes much deeper than that. So Dr. Beyer, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that with these areas. Should we be working on improving what is available to people in these areas? Or should we work on breaking down or both?
KIRSTEN BEYER: Yeah, thanks, Dr. Westin. That's a great question, and it's a complicated one. I think Dr. Griggs mentioned housing vouchers. And so for example, when we are giving someone a housing voucher to move from a more vulnerable neighborhood, let's call it, to a less vulnerable neighborhood, that can improve health outcomes for sure.
But we also know that there's a downside to that. Sometimes there are impacts on social support or mental health. And then on the flip side, if we are trying to improve neighborhoods themselves so that the people living in them can benefit from those enhancements, we often see that what happens is gentrification, when people who are living in those neighborhoods get displaced, and newer people, wealthier people, move in and take those amenities. So I think it's something that really requires close management with housing policy.
And then I think another thing that I would add is that, as you mentioned, we're really scratching the surface. I think that's an important thing to emphasize. This is one aspect of housing. There are other aspects that are very important, like quality of housing and stability of housing, which is what Dr. Griggs mentioned.
And I think it's also important to note that even if a person is denied a mortgage application because of a credit score, that credit scores, wealth, income, and many other things that are considered in the mortgage lending process are also affected by structural racism, as are things like home appraisals, mentorship, and eviction, something that we've certainly seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
SHANNON WESTIN: Wow, so thoughtful. I feel like I'm trying to take notes as fast as I can because I'm learning so much. I think we didn't hear about anything like this in our medical school and your PhD training. I don't know if you all got any type of background in this. Dr. Griggs, did you-- I mean, we never even scratched the surface with the impact of structural racism. And in fact, I think a lot of our medical education was founded in that structural racism.
JENNIFER GRIGGS: I couldn't agree more, and I couldn't agree more with what Dr. Beyer said about things like housing vouchers, so I just want to acknowledge that it's not as simple as giving people a voucher, obviously. No, we are calling for structural competence. There are multiple calls that we teach medical students and current practicing clinicians and scientists the structures that have been put into place and that persist.
So again, that intentionality that these systems were put in place through deliberate efforts, and it's only going to be through deliberate efforts that they're dismantled. And teaching people that individual behaviors are not predetermined or, frankly, learned. They cross multiple generations, and they reside within a place and the way not just a person, but an entire people, have been treated.
And I do just want to say, although this may be new to a lot of us, that the lived experience of people who live in vulnerable neighborhoods and their life experience and their family's experience going back many generations make this not new news, right? This is old news. This is stuff people have known for generations that they're being systematically cut out of opportunities for advancement and for accumulation of wealth.
So I think we just want to be-- I just want to be careful when I'm talking with my colleagues, my team, my research colleagues that this is not new knowledge. And we want to also be careful not to be parasites in a way on other people's suffering, that we want to be careful not to glorify our own ideas because number one, they're not our ideas. And number two, this type of work is the lived experience of people for many, many years, not just our neighbors and friends and colleagues.
So there's so much harm that's been done, and we can celebrate advances and new knowledge, but I also think we want to focus on cultural humility and do a lot of deep listening and less talking and build trusting relationships with communities that are not about our career advancement but are really about fairness and justice.
SHANNON WESTIN: I think that needs to be shouted from the rooftops, and I think it is a very careful balance, because we want this research to get out. We want to make sure people understand this. You're right. It's not new knowledge, but I think it's something that hasn't necessarily been highlighted in academic fields up until, like, the last few years, where I feel like we've started to see this.
But you're exactly right. We can't just do the research and find the association. Now it's time for the next steps. And I'd be interested to hear from both of you, because, to me, there are several levels of steps that we can take. There's the local level, right? So what can we do for the patients in front of us?
And then I'd be interested to hear what you all think about what do we do on the more institutional-- and by institutional, I mean, our entire country. Like, what can we do? How do we advocate for policies that will help to reverse these practices? I don't know Dr. Beyer, if you want to start. I know that was a really big question. What can we do when we're seeing patients in the clinic? Are there ways, or are there things we can offer or things that we can do on the local level that could help to address some of these disparities?
KIRSTEN BEYER: Yeah, thank you, Dr. Westin. I'm not a medical doctor, but I work a lot with medical students. We have some pathways at the Medical College of Wisconsin, one on urban and community health and one on global health. And in those pathways, we do try to put forth a lot of this type of content and learning. But again, that's just a select number of students who end up getting that training.
I think that structural racism is a fundamental force in our society, and therefore, it justifies a position in the core medical curriculum. I think since the murder of George Floyd, there has been a national consciousness that's been raised around this issue, that we should take advantage of that and try to push forward some core learning on structural racism for medical students.
And then beyond that, I think as a patient, I can use the patient perspective. As a patient, I would want my physician to take into account my life context when providing clinical care. How hard is it for me to get to my appointment and to get there on time? How hard is it for me to find child care? How hard is it for me to obtain the prescriptions I need and maintain them with any significant cost at hand? So I think that awareness for physicians is really a first step.
And then the last thing I would say is that doctors have power, and so I think it's the responsibility of those with power who are in the know about structural racism to leverage and use that power to make social change.
JENNIFER GRIGGS: I really appreciate what you said from education to practice. I would add that an integrated health system would be able to think from prevention all the way up to health care. I feel like by the time people are accessing health care, a lot of other things have gotten in the way of their health, right? That's why we talk about social determinants of health.
So I think we need to think about elevating the role of other people in the health care system. So even if you're in an individual practice, do you have access to a social worker? Are you including patient and family voices when you build your new office? We have transportation initiatives being made all over this country, and I know in Europe as well. So cities are being designed to undo transportation fragility and vulnerable neighborhoods.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of asking communities what they need. It strikes me that the ivory tower is just that, right? It's very rarefied where we work. And to go into a community and say, this is what you need, feels-- which is not what you were suggesting, Dr. Beyer or Dr. Westin, but to start by listening and ask the communities what they need and then to provide it and to listen and not leave once the, quote, "problem is fixed."
And I think the same is true nationally. We need to make sure that the administration's priorities actually bear fruit and soon, that we not kick things down the road and make compromises at the level of national policy. And as physician clinicians, those physicians who are listening, we should be going to the city council meetings when a new building is being erected. Is there going to be a consequence for neighborhoods in terms of things like gentrification?
Cities have been constructed intentionally to isolate people, and we need to start undoing that, and cities are doing that. They're taking down freeways that divide the rich from the poor. I think we need to make sure as clinicians that we are speaking up about equitable and high-quality education for young people because we know your early life experiences and education are associated with health.
Publishing work like Dr. Beyer's work, ASCO has a heavy advocacy arm. And as Dr. Beyer said, we have power. Inequities in power is what got us to where we are. So really, the burden is on those with power to speak on Capitol Hill and other places, local level, statewide level, to make change and to insist on it for the health of our patients and our communities.
SHANNON WESTIN: That is so thoughtful and such a great call to action. And I do think there's a huge opportunity for members of ASCO to get involved. The advocacy is extremely strong. There are Capitol Hill days and committees, and now we even have their own political action committee, where we can work to lobby for patients and their health care.
So I think that is a perfect place for us to end this conversation. I would like to give Dr. Beyer last opportunity to one-liner to sum up where we are and what we need to do next for those people that tend to fade in and out of these types of things.
KIRSTEN BEYER: Sure. Thank you, Dr. Westin. I would say, to summarize, that the housing sector is actively revealing structural racism. This isn't a historic practice only. We are seeing structural racism in housing right now, and it's actively revealing both structural racism and economic disinvestment. And it's a very actionable policy target, so that we can mitigate those upstream determinants of health for the benefit of patients with cancer and with other diseases.
And then I think as a final, I would say that there's a great quote from Matthew Desmond, who's a housing equity writer and scholar and activist. And he says, "A stable home functions as a secure foundation on which to build holistic and cost-effective health care." And so I think that's a great way of thinking about it from a practical standpoint. Housing is primary. It's an important foundation on which we build all the other things that we can do to improve people's health.
SHANNON WESTIN: Perfect. Thank you both so much. Thank you, Dr. Beyer. Thank you, Dr. Griggs. And thank you, all of the listeners. We'll be back soon with a new podcast coming to a ear near you.
JENNIFER GRIGGS: Thank you so much.
KIRSTEN BEYER: Yeah, thank you very much.
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