Hispanic people much are less likely to get
cancer than non-Hispanic whites, but it's also their leading cause of death.
Beneath that puzzling fact lie the
complexities and contradictions of the Hispanic health experience in the United
States. Since we're talking about 17 percent of the U.S. population, it has
ramifications for health care and the economy.
Here's what caught our eye in
Wednesday's report on
cancer and Hispanics from the American Cancer Society:
- Hispanics are less apt to get cancer than non-Hispanic whites,
with 20 percent lower incidence and 30 percent lower death rates. Higher
rates of drinking and smoking among non-Hispanic whites are one reason
why. Fortunately, cancer rates overall in the U.S. continue to decline.
- Gallbladder, liver and stomach cancer are more common among
Hispanics, while breast cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer are more
common among whites.
- People of Hispanic origin are more likely to be diagnosed with
cancer at a later stage, when it's more likely to be fatal. That's
especially true for melanoma and breast cancer. Problems with access to
care are undoubtedly a factor, the researches say, but there may be other
- Where you're from matters. The death rates from liver cancer
are twice as high in people from Mexico as they are for people from Cuba,
for one. And people from Mexico are twice as likely to die from stomach
cancer as are Cubans in the United States. Infection with h.
pylori bacteria, which causes stomach cancer, is probably one
reason. Overall, Hispanics have higher rates of cancers associated with
infectious agents, like the human papillomavirus that causes cervical
- As you acculturate, your cancer risk changes. First-generation
immigrants have lower cancer rates than Hispanics born in the U.S. Again,
behavior plays a role. Even though Hispanic adults are less likely to
smoke than non-Hispanic whites, at 11 percent versus 18 percent, more
Hispanic teens are smoking: 14 percent compared to 18.6 percent of whites.
And 37.5 percent of Hispanic teens are drinking alcohol, more than the
36.3 percent of white teens. Obesity and diabetes, two big cancer risk
factors, also are more common in U.S.-born Hispanics.