doctor speaking with a woman in a hospital bed and a man sitting beside her

Reducing Preventable Cancer Rates Among Hispanics

Hispanic men and women are less likely than other ethnic groups in the United States to be diagnosed with cancer or die from the disease. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Hispanic men and women have lower cancer incidence rates of some of the most common cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer.

In Arizona, where Hispanics make up one-third of the population, Latin-American men and women are significantly less likely to be diagnosed or die from cancer.

But that doesn’t mean Hispanic Americans shouldn’t take steps to reduce their cancer risk.

Indeed, cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics in the United States. And compared to other ethnic groups, Hispanics have higher rates of cancers that may be prevented with vaccines or regular screenings. The viruses that raise the risk of these cancers – cervical cancer, liver cancer and stomach cancer – account for more than 90 percent of all infection-related cancers worldwide.

In this article we’ll explore:

If you are interested in getting screened for cancer, or if you have been diagnosed with cancer and are looking for a second opinion or to discuss your options, call us 24/7 at 877-524-4673.

Preventable Cancer in the Hispanic Population

According a 2021 article published by the American Cancer Society (ACS), Hispanic men and women had 25 to 30 percent lower incidence and mortality rates for all cancers. However, according to the report “Hispanic individuals have higher rates of infection-related cancers, including approximately two-fold higher incidence of liver and stomach cancer.”

According to the ACS report, several factors contribute to cancer incidence and deaths in the Hispanic community. For instance, Hispanics have the highest percentage of people without health insurance compared to other ethnic groups in the U.S. Other factors that may contribute to the higher rate of preventable cancers include:

  • Access to quality health care
  • Lack of insurance
  • Behavioral risk factors
  • Lack of awareness of the importance of vaccinations and screening
  • Documentation status
  • Cultural influences
  • Language barriers

“I think there are several components involved,” says Carlos Valle, a Certified Medical Interpreter and Patient Advocate at City of Hope® Cancer Center Phoenix. “It could be lack of access. It could be a lack of knowledge. I think also there may be some embarrassment. You know, cancer in the Hispanic community is still somewhat taboo. It's something we don't always want to discuss openly.”

The cancers highlighted below are among the most common in the Hispanic community and may be prevented or caught early with regular screening and vaccinations.

Liver cancer

Hispanic men and women have about double the rate of liver cancer diagnoses and deaths than non-Hispanic white Americans. According to HHS:

  • Hispanic men have liver cancer incidence rate of 20.4 per 100,000 men compared to 11.3 per 100,000 for white men
  • Hispanic women have an incidence rate of 8.2 per 100,000 compared to 4 per 100,000 for white women
  • Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to die from liver cancer than non-Hispanics whites.

The ACS attributes the high rate of liver cancer in Hispanics to:

  • A higher-than-average incidence of diabetes
  • A higher prevalence of obesity
  • A low rate of vaccination with the hepatitis B (HBV) vaccine.

HHS reports that Hispanic adults were 30% less likely to vaccinated for hepatitis.

Stomach cancer

Hispanic men and women have the highest rates of stomach cancer diagnoses and deaths in the U.S.

Stomach cancer is relatively rare in this country, but is among the most common cancers worldwide, accounting for the second-most cancer deaths globally. In fact, stomach cancer was the deadliest cancer in the world as recently as the 1980s, when it lost its top ranking to lung cancer.

Chronic Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections are a leading risk factor for stomach cancer. The infection may be detected during regular screening, which may be done during a doctor’s visit or as part of a colonoscopy to screen for colorectal cancer.

Cervical Cancer

The CDC reports, “Hispanic women in the United States have an increased risk of cervical cancer despite the existence of screening techniques that have longstanding, demonstrated effectiveness and a vaccine that protects against the primary cause of cervical cancer — infection with certain subtypes of human papillomavirus (HPV).”

Hispanic women have a 40% higher cervical cancer incidence rate than non-Hispanic white women and are 30% more likely to die from the disease.

A report by the ACS’ Cancer Action Network states that Hispanic women "undergo significantly fewer Pap tests than non-Hispanic white and Black women." A Pap test is a screening procedure in which doctors look for abnormal cell in the cervix. If not addressed, the abnormal cells may develop into cervical cancer.

Also, inoculations with the HPV vaccine are low among girls in most ethnic groups, including Hispanics. According to HHS Hispanic women are 20% less likely to receive an HPV vaccine than white women. The vaccine targets specific types of the virus that are linked to more than 90 percent of all cervical cancers.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for cervical cancer with a Pap test every 3 years for women 21 to 65 years, and an HPV test every 5 years for women 30 to 65. A test that combines the two screening methods also may be recommended.

Cancer Screenings and Prevention Strategies May Help

Arizonans of all ethnicities can take steps designed to prevent these infection-related cancers and many other cancers, as well.

Get vaccinated. And have your children vaccinated. The HPV vaccine significantly lowers the risk of cervical cancer and at least five other cancers. And the HBV vaccine reduces the risk of hepatitis, which may lead to cancer.

Get screened. A Pap test may help detect cervical cancer early. And an annual colonoscopy or endoscopy may help find early signs of stomach cancers and others in the digestive tract.

Talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing and what cancer screening tests may be recommended for you.

Make lifestyle changes. Losing weight, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol and getting regular exercise reduces cancer risk for everyone.

The importance of a medical interpreter

Cancer has a language all its own. And for those in the United States for whom English is a second language, a diagnosis can create additional language barriers

stephen lynch
Stephen Lynch, MD, Vice Chief of Staff and Intake Physician and City of Hope Phoenix

That’s why it’s important that non-English speaking patients get the help of a certified medical interpreter. Valle, one of three Spanish-language interpreters at City of Hope Phoenix, says certified medical interpreters work in lock step with doctors to make sure patients are getting the information they need about their diagnosis and treatment plan. He also ensures that each patient’s voice is heard by providing word-for-word interpretations of what patients are telling their doctors.

“When we meet a patient for the first time, we let them know that we are trained as medical interpreters, that we are going to be repeating everything in English and in Spanish and that it’s all about transparency,” he says. “Everything that is going to be said in that room from the clinicians and from the patients and caregivers is going to be repeated. So, they have a complete understanding of what’s going to happen.”

Stephen Lynch, MD, Vice Chief of Staff and Intake Physician at City of Hope Phoenix says medical interpreters are valued members of a patient’s care team.

“Certified medical interpreters are not a luxury in our facility but rather a necessity,” he says. “It is only through their experience and skill that the process works well. They are an integral part of our team and are heavily relied upon to ensure we are providing our patients with the information they need.”

If you are interested in getting screened for cancer, or if you have been diagnosed with cancer and are looking for a second opinion or to discuss your options, call us 24/7 at 877-524-4673.