Breast cancer in Asian Americans is rising faster than in any other ethnic group

10/19/04

But cancer incidence and mortality are dropping for Asian Americans overall

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- The incidence of cancer among Asian Americans in California has dropped 5.9 percent and deaths from the disease have dropped 16.3 percent since 1988. Both declines are more rapid than those seen in any of the other major ethnic groups, according to research reported today at the 5th Asian American Cancer Control Academy. The meeting is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and its Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training (AANCART), headquartered at UC Davis.

However, Asian American women remain more likely to die of cancer than of any other cause. And, while they are less likely than women in any other major ethnic group to develop breast cancer, their breast cancer rate is the nation's fastest-growing.

The findings come from a new analysis by the Cancer Surveillance Section of the California Department of Health Services. California has the largest Asian population in the nation at 3.7 million people, or 35 percent of the entire Asian population in the United States. The new study examined cancer incidence and mortality from 1988 through 2001, the latest year for which statistics are available.

"We're encouraged by these data, but we hope that this report will serve as a clarion to urge Asian American women, who are the least likely to seek cancer screening such as mammograms, to look out for their health," said Moon S. Chen, Jr., professor of public health sciences at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center. Chen is principal investigator for AANCART, an $8.5 million project to reduce cancer in Asian Americans nationwide.

While cancer incidence and mortality fell for Asian Americans as a whole, the good news wasn't shared equally across Asian American communities. Korean Americans saw only a 0.2 percent drop in their cancer incidence during the study period, the lowest for any of the five Asian subgroups studied -- Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. And Filipino Americans, alone among the Asian American subgroups, saw a 2.5-percent increase in their death rate from cancer.

"These findings underscore the tremendous heterogeneity among Asian Americans, and the importance of looking at each Asian ethnic group separately," said Chen, who also serves as a Bush appointee to the President's Cancer Advisory Board. "California's large and diverse Asian population makes this state a logical and ideal place to understand the burden of cancer among Asian subgroups and Asians as a whole."

According to Chen, the increase in breast cancer seen in Asian American women may be due to increased awareness of breast cancer among Asian women and their physicians, as well as to Westernization, which Chen defines as "behaviors that are still difficult to quantify but represent qualitatively different actions than those in traditional Asia."

AANCART is the largest project ever undertaken to reduce cancer in Asian Americans. Headquartered at UC Davis, it includes researchers from seven other institutions: Harvard, Columbia, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, the University of Washington, UCLA, UC San Francisco and the University of Hawaii.

The 5th Asian Cancer Control Academy is sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Office of Minority Health, Region IX, AANCART, the California Department of Health Services, the American Cancer Society and UC Davis.

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