For Hispanics, cancer is now a greater threat than heart disease

September 28, 2012 | by Hiu Chung So

Cancer still may be second fiddle to heart disease as the leading cause of death among all Americans. But for Hispanics in the U.S., it recently took the lead spot.

Photo of Kimlin Tam Ashing-Giwa Kimlin Tam Ashing-Giwa (Photo by Walter Urie)

According to a recent study in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers found that cancer caused 29,935 deaths among Hispanics of all ages in the U.S. That’s slightly higher than the 29,611 deaths caused by heart disease.

The scientists also estimated that cancer deaths will rise to 32,000 for U.S. Hispanics this year.

The study found something else surprising: Certain less-common cancers pose a greater threat to Hispanics than to non-Hispanic whites.

Hispanics are less likely to develop and die from the four most common cancers — breast, prostate, lung and colorectal. However, they are more in danger from stomach, liver, uterine, cervical and gallbladder cancers.

The paper’s authors suggest that this may be due to genetic factors, exposure to certain germs and differences in lifestyle, diet and access to screening and treatment.

Kimlin Tam Ashing-Giwa, Ph.D., director of City of Hope’s Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education (CCARE), said this report should be taken as a wake-up call.

If we fail to move toward prevention, screening, treatment and follow-up that speak to people in a language they understand, we will see this disturbing trend in Hispanics continue, she said.

Ashing-Giwa also noted other ways to change the rise in cancer diagnoses and deaths for U.S. Hispanics. These include making care more affordable and accessible, engaging Hispanics in cancer research and educating the community about the differences seen in the study. “However, we don’t want these findings to raise fear or stigma in the Hispanic community that may further interfere with cancer screening,” she said.

She also recommended Spanish-language tools and resources for cancer prevention, screening and treatment that would be produced and sent out in collaboration with community health leaders.

“We really need to work on community partnerships that increase screening,” Ashing-Giwa said in an interview with HealthDay. “Better screening and earlier detection will save more lives.”

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