By Robert Cyr
Cancer has become the new top killer of Latinos in America, beating out heart disease as the leading cause of death among Hispanics for the first time, according to a recent study by the American Cancer Society. But a Connecticut doctor points out it’s actually a case of Latinos having a healthier lifestyle.
According to national data from the American Cancer Society, 29,935 Hispanic Americans died of cancer compared to 29,611 who died from heart disease. This year, 112,800 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 33,200 Latinos will die of cancer, according to the report.
The rates for diagnosis and death from stomach, liver, cervix and gallbladder cancers are higher in Latinos, according to the study. Heart disease, which was previously the top cause of death for Latinos, is still the leading cause of death among whites and African-Americans.
David Gregorio, a cancer epidemiologist in the Department of Community Medicine at University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, said that while cancer is now the top killer of Latinos, it’s on the decline. “Obviously we need to have a chronic care system that is both sensitive to managing risks and culturally sensitive at the same time,” he said. ”You can’t divorce it from the heart disease question. Cancer is only relevant because of the lower incidence of heart disease. We call that competing causes of death. Latinos are leading lives in which the risk of dying from heart disease is lower than other ethnic groups. Latinos do better in their socio-economic conditions than African Americans.”
In Connecticut, there were 1,175 cancers diagnosed in Latinos in 2009, according to state Department of Public Health spokesman William Gerrish. In 2009, the latest year available for study, cancer killed 255 Latinos, or about one in five.
The mortality rate was 151 deaths per 100,000 Latino men and 94 deaths for every 100,000 Hispanic women, according to Gerrish, who culled data from the Connecticut Tumor Registry. The leading types of fatal cancer in men were lung, liver, colorectal and prostate, while the most deadly cancers for women were lung, breast and colorectal cancers.
While smoking is the leading cause of Latino cancer, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and obesity is the second leading cause and a significant problem among Hispanic women. Among Hispanics, 43 percent of women and 34 percent of men are obese. This compares with 33 percent of all women in the United States and 32 percent of all men. Mexicans in the United States tend to have lower cancer rates than Puerto Ricans. Cubans in America have higher cancer rates than Puerto Ricans. Cubans and Puerto Ricans have higher smoking rates than Mexicans.
Latinos are also more likely than whites to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease for most cancers. One in 10 Latinos is 55 years old or older, the age group among whom the majority of cancers are diagnosed, compared with almost 1 in 3 non-Hispanics, according to the report. In 2010, more than 1 in 4 Latinos lived in poverty and nearly one-third were uninsured.
According to the 2010 census, more than 50 million Americans, or 16 percent, are Hispanic. The 43 percent increase in the Latino population over the past decade accounts for the increased incidence of cancer diagnosis and deaths, according to the report. About 30 percent of all Americans will be Latino by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
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