Cancer passes heart disease as leading cause of death among U.S. Hispanics

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Despite declining death rates, cancer has surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death among Hispanics in the U.S., according to a report from the American Cancer Society.

Researchers found that in 2009, the most recent year for which actual data are available, 29,935 people of Hispanic origin in the U.S. died of cancer, compared to 29,611 deaths from heart disease. Among non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, heart disease remains the number one cause of death.

The figures come from “Cancer Statistics for Hispanics/Latinos 2012-2014,” and were published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos, 2012-2014.

Hispanics/Latinos are the largest and fastest growing major demographic group in the U.S., accounting for 16.3 percent of the U.S. population in 2010.

In 2012, an estimated 112,800 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed and 33,200 cancer deaths will occur among Hispanics, according to the report. Among U.S. Hispanics during the past ten years of available data (2000-2009), cancer incidence rates declined by 1.7 percent per year among men and 0.3 percent per year among women. That compares to declines of 1 percent and 0.2 percent among non-Hispanic men and women, respectively.

Cancer death rates among Hispanics declined by 2.3 percent per year in men and 1.4 percent per year in women during that same time period, compared with annual declines of 1.5 percent and 1.3 percent among non-Hispanic white men and women, respectively.

Hispanics have lower incidence and death rates than non-Hispanic whites for all cancers combined and for the four most common cancers (breast, prostate, lung, bronchus and colorectum). Lung cancer rates among Hispanics are about one-half those of non-Hispanic whites. The risk of lung cancer is lower among Hispanics because they have historically been less likely to smoke cigarettes than non-Hispanic whites, according to the researchers.

In contrast, Hispanics have higher incidence and mortality rates for cancers of the stomach, liver, uterine cervix, and gallbladder, reflecting greater exposure to cancer-causing infectious agents, lower rates of screening for cervical cancer and possibly genetic factors. Incidence and death rates for cervical cancer are 50 percent to 70 percent higher in Hispanic women compared to non-Hispanic whites. In addition, Hispanics are diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease more often than non-Hispanic whites for most cancer sites.

Much of the difference in the cancer burden among U.S. Hispanics results from their unique profile in terms of age distribution, socioeconomic status and immigration history. Just one in ten U.S. Hispanics is 55 years or older, an age when the majority of cancers are diagnosed, compared with almost one in three non-Hispanics.

In 2010, 26.6 percent of Hispanics lived in poverty and 30.7 percent were uninsured, compared with 9.9 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively, of non-Hispanic whites.

Strategies for reducing cancer risk among Hispanics include increasing utilization of screening and available vaccines, as well as implementing effective interventions to reduce tobacco use, obesity and alcohol consumption.

"There is substantial heterogeneity within the U.S. Hispanic population. The most effective strategies for reducing the cancer burden in these underserved communities utilize tailored, culturally appropriate interventions, such as patient navigation, to increase access to medical services," Rebecca L. Siegel, MPH, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society, said in a press release.