Cancer Mortality is Higher Among Some Asian American Populations

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Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States nationally but ranks first in Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Vietnamese people, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society. Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander people are 75% more likely to die from liver cancer and are two to three times more likely to die from cervical, stomach, and endometrial cancers compared with White people, the analysis finds.

Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, Ph.D.

Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, Ph.D.

“It’s essential that we acknowledge the diversity of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Other Pacific Islander population. Consideration of cultural appropriateness, translation into native languages, improved access to healthcare and patient navigation, could help increase knowledge and uptake of cancer screening and preventive services,” Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, Ph.D., senior vice president, surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society, said in a news release.

May is National Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month.

In 2021, about 24 million Asian American and 1.7 million Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander people lived in the United States, representing about 8% of the population. Health data statistics for this population are generally aggregated, but the report’s authors say there is vast diversity and disparity, as well as cultural influences that impact health, within the Asian American population.

Separate incidence and mortality cancer statistics are not readily available. Researchers from the American Cancer Society analyzed data from the National Cancer Institute, the CDC, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR) to create bring an understanding of cancer and its impact on this diverse population.

The analysis finds that among men, lung cancer is the leading cause of death of every Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Other Pacific Islander (AANHPI) ethnic group, and the most commonly diagnosed cancer is prostate cancer.

Among women, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in those who are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Native Hawaiian. Breast cancer ranks first in Guamanian, Samoan, Filipino, and Asian Indian women. The five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer ranges from 72% to 74% in Tongan, Chamorro/Guamanian, and Samoan women to 94% in Japanese women compared with 93% in White women.

Previous research by the American Association for Cancer Research found similar results. Authors of this report said there are complex and interrelated factors that contribute to cancer health disparities. These include social, clinical, behavioral, cultural, environmental, and genetic and biological factors.

The authors of the American Cancer Society study cite several limitations. One is that because population data are not available, updated incidence and mortality rates could not be calculated for disaggregated Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Additionally, disaggregation for national-level risk factors and screening data are limited to the Indian, Chinese, and Filipino populations.

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