Immigrants Less Likely to Report Family History of Cancer

MONDAY Dec. 10, 2007 -- Immigrants in the United States may be less likely to report a family history of cancer, which may result in inadequate cancer screening and prevention strategies for that group of patients, a new study says.

Reporting in the Jan. 15 issue of Cancer, Dr. Heather Orom, of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, and her colleagues noted that cancer prevention guidelines recommend earlier and more frequent screening for people with a family history of certain cancers.

The researchers analyzed data from 5,010 people who took part in the 2005 Health Information Trends Survey, and found that foreign-born respondents were two-thirds less likely to report a family history of cancer than U.S.-born respondents.

The lower rate of family cancer history reporting did not change as immigrants became more integrated into American culture, the researchers found. They suggested this may be because immigrants don't have easy access to family health history, due to separation from their relatives in their native countries. In addition, some cultures don't openly discuss health issues such as cancer.

The study authors wrote "that some immigrants might not have a family history of cancer even though they have a genetic predisposition for cancer, in part, because they are from countries in which people are more likely to die at a relatively young age of causes other than cancer and are not exposed to the same degree of behavioral and environmental risk for the disease. In addition, due to under-diagnosis of cancer in many immigrants' countries of origin, lack of awareness of familial risk, and communication barriers in families, foreign-born patients may not be aware of their true family history of cancer."

Failing to take into account that immigrants may have a genetic risk of cancer, even though there's no obvious family history of the disease, may result in inadequate cancer screening and prevention, the researchers concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer causes and risk factors.

Posted: December 2007


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