Asian Ethnic Groups Experience Different Risks For Certain Cancers, Diseases

Armen Hareyan's picture

There are distinctive patterns of cancer incidence among differentAsian-American groups, according to a study published Wednesday in thejournal CA, the New York Times reports. For the report, lead author Melissa McCracken -- an epidemiologist with American Cancer Society,which sponsored the study -- and colleagues examined data onAsian-American cancer patients in California from 2000 to 2002.According to the Times, 3.7% of California residents areAsian, and the state sorts cancer data by ethnic group. Researchersfocused on five Asian-American groups: Chinese, Filipino, Japanese,Korean and Vietnamese. Overall, Asian-Americans had lower rates ofcancer than other groups in the U.S., though cancer remains a majorcause of death for Asians, the Times reports.

Subgroup Findings


By subgroup, researchers found that:

  • Vietnamese men have liver cancer and die from it at a rate seven times higher than that of non-Hispanic white men;
  • Koreans are five to seven times more likely than whites to develop stomach cancer;
  • Chinesewomen, compared with other Asians, have high rates of lung cancer anddeath rates from the disease, despite low rates of smoking. The reportsaid that Vietnamese women also have high lung cancer incidence anddeath rates, despite low smoking rates. The women might have highexposure to secondhand smoke at home or at work and to vapors fromcooking oil, according to the study;
  • Filipino men have higher rates of prostate cancer than other Asians;
  • Filipinowomen have the highest death rate from breast cancer among Asians.Filipino women also have the highest rate of obesity among Asians, andobesity has been linked to breast cancer;
  • Japanese-Americanshave high rates of colorectal, stomach, prostate and breast cancercompared with other groups. Obesity is thought to be a factor, with52.5% of Japanese men and 28.3% of women considered overweight and manyphysically inactive; and
  • Vietnameseand Korean women have higher cervical cancer rates and lower rates ofscreenings for the disease. According to the report, language barriers,lack of health insurance and cultural attitudes about screening mightpose barriers to care.

Other Findings

Researchers also found that Asians who have been in the U.S. thelongest are more likely to develop cancers, such as breast andcolorectal, that are the most common in the U.S. The finding might berelated to obesity, inactivity, high alcohol consumption and fattydiets, as more Asians adopt American habits. Recent immigrants tend todevelop cancers, such as stomach and liver, that are more common intheir home countries. Chronic infections, such as with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, and the consumption of foods preserved with nitrates and nitrites are thought to cause cancers of the stomach and liver, the Timesreports. While programs to screen the stomach have helped lower stomachcancer in some Asian countries, such screenings traditionally are notperformed in the U.S., according to the Times.


Researchers suggested that physicians consider Asians' ethnicity toimprove treatment and prevention of cancer and disease. "The group isnot homogeneous. Clinicians need to be aware of that and to reallyextend their scope of attention to cancer due to infectious agents, notjust typical chronic conditions," McCracken said (Grady, New York Times, 7/11).

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