Does race and ethnicity affect cancer risk? This is the question frequently asked throughout the year and especially during National Minority Cancer Awareness Week, April 19 to 25. Each year, cancer statistics show that minority groups are more likely than the general population to develop and/or die from certain types of cancer.
"As U.S. minority populations continue to grow, this question becomes even more important," said David Wetter, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
According to recent Census Bureau figures, minorities make up about one-third of the U.S. population and are expected to become the majority in 2042. Hispanic, black, Asian and other nonwhite men and women already make up half the population of the country's largest cities. Many small towns also are seeing similar changes in their communities.
Below are current cancer trends among some of the larger minority groups in the U.S., according to the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
African Americans are more likely than any racial and ethnic group to die from all cancers combined and for most major cancers.
American Indians/Alaska Natives are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to develop liver cancer.
Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are twice as likely than non-Hispanic whites to die from stomach cancer.
Hispanics are more likely to develop cancers related to viral infection. For example, Hispanic women have the second highest number of cervical cancer cases. Cervical cancer is related to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
More information is needed to fully understand the factors that affect cancer rates among minority populations. Factors that may contribute to health disparities include:
Lack of or inadequate insurance coverage
Lack of coverage from insurance providers to pay for related study costs
Barriers to early detection and screening, such as lack of knowledge of screening tests
Language and cultural barriers
Unequal access to improved cancer treatments
"Before additional information can be obtained, it is critical that members of minority populations participate in research studies to help scientists learn more about the health needs of these populations as well as how to better address these needs," Wetter said. "Without minority participation in research studies, it becomes difficult to determine whether or not study results are applicable to all populations."
Unfortunately, minority groups are less likely than the white population to participate in research studies. Factors contributing to low participation rates may include:
Insufficient discussions between physicians and their minority patients on the availability of studies
Lack of information in the community about the potential benefits of participating in research studies
Insufficient studies in communities where people affected by disparities often live
Exclusion of patients with multiple health problems, many of whom are minorities, from research studies based on extensive eligibility criteria
Fortunately, minorities can take an active role in their health management to reduce their risks for cancer, in addition to participating in a research study. Up to two-thirds of all cancer cases could be prevented if people adopted healthier lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating, increased exercise, sun protection and tobacco cessation, according to the American Cancer Society.
Observing National Minority Cancer Awareness Week
National Minority Cancer Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity to draw attention to issues unique to minority communities. "It gives physicians, nurses, health care professionals and researchers an opportunity to develop creative approaches to remove barriers to health care for these populations," Wetter said.
M. D. Anderson collaborates with various community organizations to organize programs that address these issues and target specific minority populations in the Houston area. For more information on upcoming programs, visit www.mdanderson.org/focused.