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For Hispanics, a Unique Cancer Profile Emerges

Report finds they're less likely to die of cancer but more apt to have certain malignancies,,

TUESDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanics in the United States are less likely to die from cancer than non-Hispanic whites, but they have higher rates of cancers linked to infections, including stomach, liver and cervix malignancies, a new report says.

At first glance, Hispanics' lower death rate from cancer seems to be good news, but one explanation is that the Hispanic population skews younger than the general U.S. population. Cancer risk rises with age.

The new detailed look at cancer incidence is from Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2009-2011, a report released Sept. 15 that's published every three years by the American Cancer Society.

Hispanics are the largest, fastest-growing and youngest minority in the United States, according to the report. They also have a cancer risk profile that differs from whites and other ethnic groups.

Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to die from the four most common cancers: breast, prostate, colorectal and lung.

But Hispanics have higher rates of stomach cancer, associated with Helicobacter pylori infection; liver cancer, associated with hepatitis B and C infection; and cervical cancer, linked to human papillomavirus infection.

Immunizations against human papillomavirus in teenage girls can prevent cervical cancer, and regular gynecological screenings for women can catch cervical cancer early, but Hispanic women are less likely to get either, said Vilma Cokkinides, the American Cancer Society's director for risk factor surveillance.

And though Hispanics are less likely to smoke and drink alcohol, both risk factors for cancer, they are more likely to be poor, have fewer years of education and lack health insurance, barriers to getting recommended screenings, according to the report.

Hispanics are also more likely than whites to be diagnosed with breast and melanoma cancers at a later stage, when the cancers are more difficult to treat and have spread to other organs.

Cokkinides said that programs targeting Spanish-speakers about the importance of screening and risk factors for cancer could help, as could programs to increase access to medical insurance and medical care.

But one challenge in developing such programs, she said, is that the U.S. Hispanic population is diverse, with variations in country of origin, length of time in the United States, educational attainment and experience and knowledge of the health-care system.

"Things like mammograms and Pap smears aren't necessarily routine where people are coming from," Cokkinides said.

Yet certain lessons should be stressed across all cultures, she said.

"Avoidance of tobacco products, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a largely plant-based diet, minimizing alcohol consumption and exercising is good advice for everybody," Cokkinides said.

Hilary Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford, Conn., said that it's not uncommon for Hispanic women to be diagnosed with later-stage cancers that could have been picked up sooner through proper screenings. The council runs a Spanish-language cancer support group for Hispanic women, in addition to its research and advocacy functions.

"There's a real lack of support for culturally appropriate and linguistically appropriate services for them," Waldman said.

And though many big-city hospitals have interpreters, smaller or suburban hospitals often don't, she said, adding that the complexity of cancer and its often-complicated treatment plans and serious side effects make interpreters all the more important.

In the support groups, Waldman said, women often talk about their distress in not being able to understand their doctors -- or having their doctors understand them.

"There's a big problem getting medical interpretation for people who don't speak English," she said. "There is no mechanism to pay for it. If you're lucky, they will bring in the housekeeper or somebody who happens to be around to translate."

The inability to communicate, combined with financial issues, has led some women to skip appointments, Waldman said.

Nearly 99,000 Hispanics in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer in 2009, according to the American Cancer Society. Among men, prostate is the most common malignancy; among women, it's breast cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second-most common cancer in both Hispanic men and women.

About 18,800 Hispanics will die from cancer in 2009, the society estimates. Among men, lung and colorectal cancer cause the most deaths, whereas breast and lung cancer are the top two killers of women.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on racial and ethnic disparities and cancer.

SOURCES: Vilma Cokkinides, Ph.D., director, risk factor surveillance, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Hilary Waldman, spokeswoman, Hispanic Health Council, Hartford, Conn.; Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2009-2011, Sept. 15, 2009

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