Cancer now No. 1 killer of Hispanics
Study finds cancer rate is still falling
Heart disease mortality rates have dropped among Hispanics in the United States.
“Hispanics are 20 percent less likely to have heart disease as they are a younger population,” said Dr. Owen Kim, a medical doctor and oncologist at the Cancer Treatment Center at Sierra View District Hospital. He attributes this to the average age of this group. “Heart disease is almost exclusively a disease of the old.”
However, a recent study by Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, attributes the leading cause of death for this group, which in the past was heart disease, to cancer.
The study found that this year, and nationwide, over 112,000 cancer cases are estimated to be diagnosed and the mortality rate is expected to be over 33,000 cases.
The change is not exactly cause for alarm. Death rates for both cancer and heart disease have been dropping for Hispanics and everyone else. It’s just that heart disease deaths have fallen faster, largely because of improved treatment and prevention, including the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Overall, cancer will probably replace heart disease as the nation’s top cause of death in the next 10 years, said Siegel. Government health statisticians think the crossover point could be reached as early as this year, or at least in the next two or three years.
The reason it has already happened among Hispanics is that they are younger on average than non-Hispanic whites and blacks. And cancer tends to kill people earlier in life than heart disease, for decades the nation’s top cause of death.
In the report, Hispanics are defined as those of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, South or Central American, and/or other Spanish roots.
The aforementioned group has lower incident rates for breast, colorectum, prostate and lung and bronchus cancer than non-Hispanic whites, but has higher incident and mortality rates for the following cancers: stomach, uterine cervix, gallbladder and liver.
“In Hispanics liver and gallbladder cancer are relatively rare. However stomach cancer is notably higher,” said Kim who added that this cancer is twice as high in Hispanics than Anglos. He estimated that one-third of his patients are of Hispanic descent.
Hispanics are the nation’s largest and fastest-growing major ethnic group, and many of them are young immigrants from Mexico. Most heart disease deaths are in people 65 years and older. The vast majority of Hispanics in the U.S. are younger than 55.
The story is different in Mexico, which has an older population. There, diabetes is the biggest killer, with cancer No. 2, according to 2009 statistics from the Pan American Health Organization.
Screenings are available, according to Kim, for common cancers like cervical cancer which is preventable. For women the pap smear is a tool to detect this cancer and there is also a vaccine.
However, screenings for stomach, liver and gallbladder do not exist.
“Some cancers we hope we don’t get,” said Kim.
Cancer is also the leading cause of death for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. And it is now the leading killer in 18 states, according to 2009 numbers from the CDC.
To find out more on the American Cancer Society study visit www.cacancerjournal.org and to find out more on the American Cancer Society visit www.cancer.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.