Managing Treatments

Raising Cancer Awareness Among Minorities May Aid Prevention Efforts

Raising cancer awareness in minorities may help prevent cancer or catch it earlier.

In recent years, cancer diagnoses and deaths have been declining in the U.S. across all populations, though minorities are still hit hardest due to lack of access to care and prevention services, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Getting screened and taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle helps everyone detect cancer earlier and decrease risk. By increasing cancer awareness among minorities and providers, we can take steps to address risk factors. Let’s take a closer look at the differences in cancer diagnosis and survival rates across different populations.

Populations at Higher Risk

The exact reasons aren’t yet understood, but African-American men tend to have higher rates of prostate cancer than other races, according to ACS. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black men.

The ACS also reports that Hispanic women tend to have much higher rates of gallbladder cancer than other racial groups. Hispanic women have lower overall rates of common cancers than white women, but they may be diagnosed with more difficult-to-treat breast cancers.

Know your family history. People with family members who have prostate or breast cancer are at higher risk of developing the disease. If you’re at a higher risk, talk to your doctor about screening for these cancers earlier than average. Beyond that, make sure you maintain a healthy weight to reduce your overall risk of these cancers.

Later Stage Diagnosis

African-Americans tend to have cancer diagnosed at a later stage, possibly because of longer intervals between screening.

Follow a consistent screening schedule. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors for common cancers, and begin screening at an appropriate time. Stick to the schedule. Look for free screening opportunities at local hospitals, cancer centers and health clinics. The earlier cancer is found, the better your chances of treating it.

Infections and Vaccines

Minorities tend to have higher rates of cancers related to infectious diseases and diseases that can be treated with vaccines. For instance, cervical cancer can be caused by some strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), an illness that can be prevented with a vaccine. For this reason, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI), African-American and Hispanic women have higher rates of cervical cancer.

Hispanic and Asian people also have higher rates of stomach and liver cancer. These cancers are more common in people born outside the U.S.

One way minorities can protect themselves from an increased cancer risk is to get vaccinated whenever possible. Infants in the U.S. get the hepatitis B vaccine at birth, but there is also a hepatitis B vaccine available to adults. If you’re not eligible for the HPV vaccine, women should have a regular pap and HPV test to catch any problems early. Cervical cancer is highly treatable when caught early.

Lifestyle

Hispanic and AANHPI populations tend to have lower rates of cancer overall than other individuals. However, rates of common cancers like breast, lung and colorectal increase as factors like obesity increase in the general population. Changes in alcohol consumption and smoking also affect cancer risk, so avoid smoking and drinking.

If you already have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, make sure the disease is well-managed, and aim to maintain a healthy weight.

Although some genetic differences can account for cancer occurrences in different populations, many cancer diagnoses still depend upon modifiable risk factors. Understanding lifestyle, cultural and genetic differences to increase cancer awareness among minorities can help catch disease at an earlier stage and help people take steps to lower their risk of developing cancer.

Getting screened is an important part of staying healthy. UVA Cancer Center has advanced screenings for a variety of different cancers.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney