Asians In Texas May Be Seven Times More Likely to Develop Cancer
Asian-Americans may be seven times as likely to be diagnosed with certain cancers, according to the American Cancer Society and Melissa McCracken, first author of a study focusing on cancer rates in the U.S.’s Asian population, released earlier this week in CA, a Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
While Asian-Americans have a lower overall incidence rate of cancer than other ethnic populations in the U.S., the disease is still a main cause of death for the group and accounts for more fatalities than heart disease. Stomach and liver cancers, for instance, are much more likely to occur in the United States’ Asian population.
It’s a serious public health issue for the country, with so many immigrants arriving every year, many of whom lack health insurance and the communication skills to effectively seek treatment, and some of whom carry bacteria and viruses — which can cause cancers — uncommon in the U.S. While still a small minority in Texas, at just under 4%, or approximately 850,000, the Asian-American population in the state is growing, particularly in cities like Dallas and Houston.
McCracken’s study was based on cases reported in California from 2000 to 2004, and focuses on five ethnic groups — Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese — all broken down into subgroups and analyzed individually, as well as in comparison to the larger population of Asians living in the U.S. The study concluded that Asian-Americans have a recognizable pattern of cancers, that newer immigrants tend to display patterns more closely aligned with their native countries, and that the longer an individual is in the U.S., the more likely he or she is to develop cancers more common here, like colorectal and breast cancers.
Koreans are five to seven times as likely to develop stomach cancer as non-Hispanic whites, and Vietnamese men are seven times more likely to be diagnosed and die from liver cancer. Filipino women have the highest death rate from breast cancer among all Asian women, and are diagnosed almost as often as Caucasians. Filipino men have the highest rate of prostate cancer among Asian men, and are on par with Filipino women’s breast cancer incidence rate, about 125 per 100,000. Vietnamese and Korean women show the highest rates of cervical cancer, and the lowest rates of Pap test screenings. Japanese-Americans’ rates of colorectal, stomach, prostate, and breast cancers are all increasing.
Approximately 80% of all liver cancers occur in developing countries, mostly due to untreated bacterial or viral infections. Fifty-five percent of those cases are in China alone. The stunning rates of stomach and liver cancers in the U.S.’s Vietnamese and Korean populations can be traced, in part, back to Asia, where hepatitis B is endemic. Chronic infections from the disease are a major cause of liver cancer there, and recent immigrants show similar rates as their home countries. Foods high in nitrates and nitrites, common in Korean cuisine, are also thought to be at fault.
McCracken, an epidemiologist with the Society, is warning clinicians and the public to be more aware of the problem, especially as circumstances that bring about the higher death rates associated with these cancers could be avoided. Proper screening procedures, increasing access to health insurance and health care, sensitivity to immigration issues — including the possibility of bacterial or viral infections uncommon in the U.S. — as well as making efforts to cut through barriers associated with language and cultural differences, would all be helpful.
“The group (the Asian-American population) is not homogenous. Clinicians need to be aware of that and to really extend their scope of attention to cancer due to infectious agents, not just typical chronic conditions.”
Adopting healthier habits from Asian countries, as opposed to Asians picking up unhealthy American habits, would also appear to lower cancer incidence rates for all ethnic groups. Risks of many cancers increase with obesity, inactivity, high alcohol intake, and diets high in fat and low in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. As immigrants adapt to their surroundings, their habits, naturally, often slowly become more like their host country’s. As Asian-Americans adopt more American habits, then, certain cancer rates slowly increase.
Genetics, of course, may also play a role. Dr. Regina Santella, a professor of environmental health science at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, points to lung cancer’s link with a certain gene that slightly increases the chance of smokers developing lung cancer — a serious problem in Texas. Not all smokers develop the disease, however, even if conditions are similar, or worse, to those who smoke. But exposure levels to toxins, including cigarette smoke, are also factors not to be ignored, she warns.
With the overwhelming number of statistics available on an overwhelming number of health issues, it’s difficult not to skim the morning paper and then promptly exchange it for that delicious donut, sitting, of course, next to a highly-caffeinated cup of sugary coffee. “Oh, everything causes cancer anyway,” we grumble, and go about our day. But generalized information is perhaps just as important as specifics, perhaps more so to the mass population. The basic truth is that McCracken’s study reveals one very important thing many others have — that incidences of disease, including deadly cancers, increase dramatically when we don’t take care of ourselves. Poor eating and exercise habits, as well as exposure to certain toxins, were the main culprits — not life in general. So read the health section, put one less teaspoon of sugar in that cup of joe and, for goodness’ sake, eat some fresh fruit.
Being aware of your genetic risks and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are important parts of watching out for your health. How you take care of yourself will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet, as well. If you’re a young individual who tries to keep informed and maintain a healthy condition and lifestyle, you should take a look at the revolutionary, comprehensive and highly-affordable individual health insurance solutions created by Precedent specifically for you.