Cancer and Minorities
When it comes to cancer figures, minorities in the U.S. have higher rates of cancer and higher rates of death from cancer than White Americans. Here are just a few statistics:
- Black women are more likely to die of breast, colon and rectum cancer than women of any other racial or ethnic group.
- Black men are more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than men of other racial or ethnic groups.
- Black men have the highest rates of cancer of the colon, rectum, lung and bronchus.
- Southeast Asian women have higher invasive cervical cancer incidence rates and lower rates of Pap testing than any other ethnic group in the country.
- Korean men experience the highest rate of stomach cancer of all racial/ethnic groups, and a five times higher rate of stomach cancer than White American men.
- Lung cancer rates among Southeast Asians are 18 percent higher than those of White Americans.
- Hispanic women experience twice the rate of invasive cervical cancer as White American women.
- Latinos have higher rates of stomach cancer than American Whites.
- Primary liver cancer rates among Latinos are twice as high as those for whites.
- The five-year survival rate for Latino women with breast cancer is 76 percent. For White American women, it’s 85 percent.
Why the gap?
There are several reasons why minorities groups fare worse when it comes to cancer. For one thing, a greater proportion of minorities tend to be disadvantaged economically. This disadvantage can lead to barriers to health care, lack of education about the importance of eating healthy food and getting regular exercise and lack of education about cancer self-exams and screening tests.
Additionally, members of minority groups have higher smoking rates than White Americans, and there’s some evidence that tobacco companies seem to market more heavily to disadvantaged groups. Smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, and it’s also believed to increase the risk of several other types of cancer, such as colon, bladder and mouth.
Cultural issues can play a big role in the cancer disparities as well. For example, while many Asian and Latino women don’t know about the importance of getting PAP smears to detect cervical cancer early, many of them do know, but modesty prevents them from having the tests.
Some members of ethnic groups don’t always trust the traditional medical establishment. They rely instead on treatments that have been passed down in their own cultures. For some ethnic groups, difficulty speaking English is a barrier to getting care.
No simple solution
The health gap between minorities and White Americans is a complex issue without an easy solution. Whatever ethnic or socioeconomic group you belong to, do what you can to increase your awareness of how to lower your cancer risk. If you have your own beliefs about how to treat cancer, talk about your beliefs with your doctor. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, see if you can find a different doctor. Find a doctor you trust and work out a healthy diet that fits in well with your culture. Ask about the kinds of screening tests you should have, and when you should have them.
The American Cancer Society; Intercultural Cancer Council.