Cancer Now Top Cause of Death for U.S. Hispanics

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Sept. 17, 2012 -- Cancer has passed heart disease as the top killer of U.S. Hispanics, according to the American Cancer Society.

"More Hispanics are suffering and dying from cancer than from heart disease," says researcher Rebecca Siegel, MPH, an epidemiologist with the society.

That is true, she says, even though death from cancer and new cancer cases have been declining in U.S. Hispanics over the past decade.

Siegel is a researcher on the new report, "Cancer Statistics for Hispanics/Latinos, 2012.'' It is published online in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The gap between heart disease deaths and cancer deaths in Hispanics is small, she says.

In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, 29,935 Hispanics in the U.S. died of cancer and 29,611 died of heart disease.

"It's a good news, bad news story," Siegel says.

Cancer in Hispanics: More Information

Every three years since 2000, the American Cancer Society has produced the report.

Hispanics and Latinos are the largest and fastest-growing major demographic group in the U.S. In 2010, they made up more than 16% of the population.

For the report, Hispanic refers to those with origins in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, South or Central America, or other Spanish areas.

In 2012, the researchers estimated, about 112,800 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed among U.S. Hispanics. More than 33,000 cancer deaths are expected.

From 2000 to 2009, the incidence for all cancers combined dropped by an average of:

  • 1.7% a year among Hispanic men
  • 0.3% a year among Hispanic women

In comparison, the incidence dropped 1% a year in non-Hispanic white men and 0.2% in non-Hispanic white women.

The death rate for all combined cancers among Hispanics decreased, too, by an average of:

  • 2.3% a year in men
  • 1.4% a year in women

That, too, is better than among non-Hispanic whites, which declined 1.5% a year in men and and 1.3% a year in women during the same period.

Hispanic men are most likely to get cancers of the prostate, colon and rectum, and lung and bronchus.

For Hispanic women, cancers of the breast, colon and rectum, and thyroid are most common.

The report says it is important to realize that the U.S. Hispanic population is constantly changing because of new immigrants. The trends reflect the risks of established Hispanic residents and incoming Hispanic immigrants.

Hispanics & Cancer: Perspectives

The new report should not be alarming, says Paulo S. Pinheiro, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"Both incidence and death rates are declining," he says. However, he says "there is always room for improvement."

One key area is screening tests, he says. Screening rates for some cancers (breast, colorectal, and cervical) are lower in Hispanics, the report shows.

"That is very much an access problem," Pinheiro says, such as lack of insurance.

Screening access should be improved, agrees Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, PhD, MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine and sociology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles.

"For many cancers, Hispanic men and women often present themselves at advanced stages of disease where treatment options and survival are limited," she says.

Besides lack of screenings, other factors play in, she says. These include lack of health insurance, high-fat diets, lack of exercise, and lack of treatments that are designed around unique cultural needs.

Hispanics & Cancer: How to Reduce the Risks

"While there are fewer interventions for cancer than heart disease, there are ways that people can reduce their cancer risk," Siegel says.

"Not smoking is No. 1," she says. About 1 in 5 Cuban and Puerto Rican men smoke, according to the report.

Obesity is an issue, especially among Mexican women, Siegel says. It increases the risk for postmenopausal breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and endometrial cancer, she says.

Other steps, says Baezconde-Garbanati, vice-chair of the board off directors for the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, include:

  • Wearing sun block
  • Exercising 30 minutes daily
  • Eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables
  • Getting preventive screenings

If language is a barrier, she says, the alliance offers materials in Spanish.


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SOURCES: Siegel, R. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, published online Sept. 17, 2012. Cokkinides, V. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, published online Sept. 17, 2012. Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos, 2012-2014, American Cancer Society. Rebecca Siegel, MPH, epidemiologist, American Cancer Society. Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, PhD, MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine and sociology, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Norris Cancer Center, Los Angeles; vice-chair, Board of Directors, National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Paulo S. Pinheiro, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology, University of Nevada Las Vegas.

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