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Some Cancers Strike Hispanics More Often
 Cancer Center Feature Story

Some Cancers Strike Hispanics More Often
Cultural and language issues may contribute, experts suspect

Some Cancers Strike Hispanics More Often(HealthDay News) -- Hispanics in the United States -- the country's largest, fastest-growing and youngest minority population -- have been found to be less likely than others to die from cancer.

But that's not the whole story, and the news isn't all good.

The finding, in a report published every three years by the American Cancer Society, revealed that overall cancer deaths are less than for other races, but Hispanics have higher rates of certain kinds of cancers.

The types of cancer with the greatest impact on Hispanics are those linked to infections, including stomach cancer (which is associated with Helicobacter pylori infection), liver cancer (associated with hepatitis B and C infection) and cervical cancer (linked to human papillomavirus, or HPV, infection), the report found.

Immunizations against HPV in teenage girls can prevent cervical cancer, and regular gynecological screenings for women can catch cervical cancer early, but Hispanic girls and women are less likely to get either, Vilma Cokkinides, the American Cancer Society's director for risk factor surveillance, told HealthDay.

The lack of screenings, she said, also contributes to the fact that Hispanics are more likely than whites to be diagnosed with breast and melanoma cancer at a later stage, when the cancers are tougher to treat and have spread.

Additional challenges in Hispanics' battle against cancer include that they are more likely to be poor, less educated and lack health insurance, the report found. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33 percent of Hispanics younger than 65 do not have health insurance.

Then there's the language barrier.

Hilary Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Hispanic Health Council in Hartford, Conn., told HealthDay that "there's a real lack of support for culturally appropriate and linguistically appropriate services" for Hispanic women. As a result, she said, it's not uncommon for Hispanic women to be diagnosed with later-stage cancers that could have been picked up sooner through screenings.

Smaller hospitals often don't have interpreters, Waldman said, and the complexity of cancer treatment plans and side effects make critical explanations and recommendations difficult.

"There's a big problem getting medical interpretation for people who don't speak English," she said.

Cultural differences can prove problematic as well. The American Cancer Society suggests that health-care providers:

  • Involve family members.
  • Take extra care to show respect. This includes explaining without being condescending.
  • Get personal. Hispanics typically prefer being physically closer to each other -- less personal space -- than do non-Hispanic whites.
  • Ask about their patients' lives -- family, friends and work -- and share stories and pictures.
  • Encourage questions.
  • Respect traditional healing approaches. This may include a strong religious component as part of the healing process.

On the Web

For more on understanding cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Vilma Cokkinides, Ph.D., director, risk factor surveillance, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Hilary Waldman, spokeswoman, Hispanic Health Council, Hartford, Conn.; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (; American Cancer Society (

Author: Anne Thompson

Publication Date: Sept. 30, 2010

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