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Latinos' Cancer Risk Profile / Study: Group More Susceptible To Certain Cancers Than Others

By Margaret Ramirez

September 25, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Newsday. All rights reserved.

Latinos nationwide are more likely to die of less common cancers - such as stomach, cervical and liver - than other racial or ethnic groups, according to a study released yesterday by the American Cancer Society.

The study found that Latinos have a distinct cancer risk profile, compared to other racial and ethnic groups, influenced by lower rates of screening, higher incidences of obesity and lower rates of physical activity.

By the end of this year, according to the study, cancer will be the second leading killer among Latinos after heart disease, accounting for more than 67,000 cancer cases and more than 22,000 deaths.

When comparing cancer incidence and mortality rates, researchers found that Latinos were less likely than whites to develop and die of the more common cancers detected in the United States, including breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. In contrast, the study found, Latinos are more likely to die of stomach, cervical, liver and biliary tract cancers.

Those rates for Latino immigrants and U.S.-born Latinos seem to mirror rates in the countries where these groups trace their roots. In Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Central and South America, cancers of the stomach, cervix and liver are higher than in the United States.

During a news conference at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, Anna York, the American Cancer Society regional vice president, said part of the problem stems from the fact that Latinos are less likely to use screening tests, such as annual Pap smears that detect cervical cancer in women. The death rate for cervical cancer is 40 percent higher among Latinas than other groups.

But York said the study, which looked at cancer cases in 2001-2003, contained some positive findings on breast cancer and Latinas.

"The good news is that mammography use among Latinas was higher than previous years and closer to rates for other ethnic groups, so part of the message is getting across," she said.

Tammy Gruenberg, an Ob-Gyn at St. Barnabas Hospital in the South Bronx, said lack of education is a barrier. She said many of her Latina patients are unaware what a Pap test is.

"Many of them are confused and believe they are getting screened for cervical cancer during emergency room visits. So, there is a lot of education that needs to be done," she said.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion said the cancer statistics, coupled with high rates of obesity and diabetes citywide, signaled a health crisis among Latinos. Carrion said he plans to launch a new initiative to promote health education and physical fitness among Bronx residents, many of whom are Latino.

"We have a lot of conditions that are unacceptable, critical and must be addressed," he said.

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