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Cancer Overtakes Heart Disease as Top Cause of Death Among U.S. Hispanics

MONDAY Sept. 17, 2012 -- Cancer is now the leading cause of death among U.S. Hispanics, a new report reveals.

While death rates for both cancer and heart disease have declined among the Hispanic population in the United States, cancer has edged out heart disease as the number one cause of death, according to the report published online Sept. 17 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. Heart disease remains the top cause of death among non-Hispanic whites and blacks in America.

An estimated 112,800 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 33,200 cancer deaths will occur among U.S. Hispanics in 2012, the American Cancer Society noted in a news release about the report.

In 2009, data showed that 29,935 Hispanic people in the United States died of cancer, compared with 29,611 deaths from heart disease.

"Death rates of heart disease are declining faster because there are more interventions available for heart disease," explained study lead author Rebecca Siegel, at the American Cancer Society. "It's positive that rates of heart disease and cancer-related deaths are decreasing, but we can do more to improve access to health care for these folks and decrease rates further."

From 2000 to 2009, cancer incidence rates among U.S. Hispanics declined by 1.7 percent per year among men and 0.3 percent per year among women. By contrast, cancer incidence rates declined by 1 percent among non-Hispanic men and 0.2 percent among non-Hispanic women during the same time frame, the investigators found.

In addition, cancer death rates among Hispanics declined by 2.3 percent per year in men and 1.4 percent per year in women during that same time period, compared with yearly declines of 1.5 percent and 1.3 percent among non-Hispanic white men and women, respectively.

Hispanics are at greater risk for cancers related to infections such as liver cancer, stomach cancer and cervical cancer, Siegel said, which is a reflection of greater exposure to cancer-causing infectious agents, lower screening rates and possibly genetic factors. Specifically, incidence and death rates for cervical cancer are 50 percent to 70 percent higher among Hispanic women than non-Hispanic whites. For most cancer sites, Hispanics are diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease more often than non-Hispanic whites, the report found.

Enter access-to-care issues.

"[Hispanics] are disproportionately poor and uninsured," Siegel said. "Fully 31 percent of U.S. Hispanics are uninsured compared to 12 percent of non-Hispanic whites." As such, Hispanics are also less likely to undergo screening for cervical cancer, which prevents this type of cancer, but also detects it earlier when it is in its most treatable stages, she noted.

Hispanics have lower incidence and death rates than non-Hispanic whites for all cancers combined and for breast, prostate, colorectal, and lung and bronchus cancer -- the four most common cancers -- the report showed.

In particular, lung cancer rates among Hispanics are about one-half those of non-Hispanic whites. This is likely due to the fact that some Hispanics may be less likely to smoke cigarettes than non-Hispanic whites.

There are also differences across Hispanic populations, Siegel said. For example, "Cubans are more likely to smoke and that is important in terms of many types of cancer," she said. "Obesity is a concern among Mexicans, and has been associated with several types of cancer including breast, colon and endometrial. We need tailored interventions at the community level that are focused on specific Hispanic subpopulations."

Don't discount the effect of genetics, said Dr. Kimlin Ashing-Giwa, director of the Center of Community Alliance for Research and Education at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

In addition, "many Hispanics work in the service or farming industry where they are exposed to environmental agents and chemicals that may increase their risks of certain cancers," noted Ashing-Giwa, who was not involved with the study. Still, "the main issues are access to care and later-stage diagnosis, especially with the cancers we could screen for such as breast and cervical," she said. To shore up these gaps, "we really need to work on community partnerships that increase screening," she added. "Better screening and earlier detection will save more lives."

More information

To see the full report, "Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2012-2014," visit the American Cancer Society.

Posted: September 2012


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