California Researchers Analyze Cancer Trends among Asian-American Groups in U.S.

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Posted on July 23, 2013


Researchers hope that new analysis on cancer trends among the Asian-American population in the United States will lay aside the tendency – whether in the general public or in the health care community – to treat Asians as one big group that shares the same health characteristics.


In findings published online this week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers from the Cancer Prevention Institute of California analyzed national trends in cancer incidence among the eight largest Asian American groups. The CPIC researchers say they believe it’s the first-ever study of its kind.


They looked at 13 population-based cancer registries from 10 regions of the U.S. (Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, New Jersey, New Mexico, Utah, Seattle-Puget Sound, and the metropolitan areas of Atlanta and Detroit).


Cancer incidence trend data from 1990 through 2008 were studied in Asian Indians/Pakistanis; Chinese; Filipinos; Japanese; Cambodians (identified as Kampucheans in the study); Koreans, Laotians and Vietnamese.


Among the findings:


*Prostate was the most common type of cancer among men, followed by lung, colorectal, liver and stomach cancers. Breast cancer was the most common form in women, followed by colorectal and lung; liver, cervix, thyroid and stomach cancers.


*In Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese men, however, lung cancer was the most prevalent.


*The rates at which breast cancer incidence in women grew varied among the groups. The rates grew by more than 1 percent each year over 20 years in Chinese women, even as the number of new cases fell in the U.S. over the same time period. For Japanese women, the annual increase was nearly 3 percent for eight years before dropping by 2 percent each year, starting in 1999.


*Lung cancer rates have increased among Filipina and Korean women and Asian Indian/Pakistani men, while colorectal cancer rates have been increasing among Cambodian, Korean, and Laotian men and women.


* Japanese and Koreans had the highest colorectal cancer rates among the groups, with rates higher than or similar to that of non-Hispanic whites. But the number of cases among Cambodians, Koreans, Laotians, and Vietnamese men and among South Asian and Filipina women rose sharply over the 19-year time period.


“Asian Americans are a very broad, heterogeneous group,” said Scarlett Lin Gomez, a research scientists at CPIC and lead author of the study. “Immigration patters are different. Certainly that must play into different cancer patterns.”


It wasn’t until the researchers had obtained more detailed population data that they were able to look at some of the smaller groups more closely, Gomez said.


“We really did find that the trends were quite different, versus if we [analyzed data] before,” Gomez said.


“It’s really interesting to be talking about this now, when the topic of race is at the forefront of people’s minds,” she said. “For reasons we don’t fully understand, race is actually very important when it comes to the rates and risks of cancer.”


Gomez said she hopes the findings not only erase the stigma of cancer that pervades many Asian American cultures, but that it does away with the notion that all Asians are alike and can be put into one group when talking about health trends.


“When you look at statistics based on Asians being aggregated together, it shows that the cancer burden is relatively low,” Gomez said.


The general public has the perception that most Asians are well-off and well-integrated into society, she said.


“That does a disservice to our heterogeneous community,” added Gomez, who hopes the new information will raise awareness, especially when it comes to directing messages about cancer screenings. “That plays into cancer as well. There’s this perception that cancer is not a problem.”


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