Living in U.S. May Raise Hispanics' Cancer Risk

WEDNESDAY Aug. 5, 2009 -- For Hispanics who move to the United States, the good life comes at a price: A new study finds they increase their risk for cancer by 40 percent.

Living the American lifestyle is probably to blame, say researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Of three Hispanic subgroups they studied -- Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Cubans -- Puerto Ricans had the highest cancer rates and Mexicans the lowest. The risk of cancer among Cubans was close to that of whites, the researchers found.

The report is published in the August issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The study took place in Florida, home to about 2.7 million Hispanics and an ideal setting for a study on immigration and cancer, the authors noted.

"There is no reason to believe that the people who came to Florida from the Latin countries are different from those who stayed," said Dr. Paulo S. Pinheiro, a researcher in the university's department of epidemiology. "Since there is no genetic difference, if there is a difference it will be in the lifestyles they adopt once they come to the United States."

Using data from the Florida cancer registry for 1999 to 2001 and the 2000 U.S. Census, the team looked at cancer rates in the places of origin and compared them with cancer rates for those groups in Florida.

Overall, Hispanics still had lower cancer rates than whites and blacks in Florida, but the researchers found that Cubans and Puerto Ricans quickly acquired higher risk for diet-related cancers. Cuban men had more tobacco-related cancers than seen in their homeland, Puerto Rican men had higher rates of liver cancer, and Mexican women had higher rates of cervical cancer, the researchers noted.

Among Cubans and Mexicans in Florida, the risk for colorectal cancer was more than double the risk in Cuba and Mexico. The same was true for lung cancer among Mexican and Puerto Rican women in Florida compared with women in their homelands, the researchers found.

These differences should be taken into account when developing cancer prevention programs for Hispanic groups in the United States, Pinheiro said.

Amelie G. Ramirez, director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, applauded the report.

"This study is significant in that it confirms some trends we've been seeing in the last few years, mainly that different U.S. Hispanic population groups -- Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans -- have higher incidence rates of certain cancers than they do in their homelands," Ramirez said. "They also tend to have worse cancer outcomes due to less access to health care and late diagnosis."

Calling this a good start, Ramirez said researchers should continue studying the diverse Hispanic population, especially since projections indicate that about one in every three people in the United States will be Hispanic by 2050, she said. "Physicians and researchers still know very little about the different Latino population groups," Ramirez said.

"We need to better understand these different groups and what predisposes them to certain types of cancer, so that health-care workers can improve their health outcomes," Ramirez said. "In turn, we need to continue to learn more about why some different Latino groups have lower incidence rates, and what beneficial information can be learned from those groups and applied to the general population."

Cancer experts like Vilma Cokkinides agree that unhealthy lifestyle changes increase the cancer risk for Hispanic immigrants. "Immigrants who come and stay longer in the United States start adopting lifestyles that can lead to greater cancer incidents," said Cokkinides, strategic director of risk factor surveillance at the American Cancer Society. "Smoking, diet, lack of physical activity and exposure to certain chemicals tend to lead to a higher risk of cancer."

On the positive side, Cokkinides thinks that the health-care system in the United States is better able to detect cancers. But access to care could be a problem for some groups, she added.

More information

For more on racial disparites and cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

Posted: August 2009


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