Asians Differ When It Comes to Rates of Disease

Erin Allday, San Francisco Chronicle, March 19, 2010

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In fact, subgroups of Asians and Pacific Islanders can face dramatically different risks for developing certain diseases. One recent study found that Hmong adults in California have rates of liver and cervical cancer three to four times higher than those of other Asians and Pacific Islanders, for example.

And communities often vary wildly when it comes to preventive care and survival rates. The same study noted that Hmong residents were less likely than other Asians to get immunizations that can prevent both types of cancer.

To address some of these variances, the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday published its first issue devoted to health care in Asian and Pacific Islander populations.

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Breast cancer

Breast cancer has long been considered less of a problem for Asian women than for any other ethnic group. That’s true for Asian women as a group, but when Bay Area researcher Scarlett Lin Gomez divided Asians into different nationalities, she found that Japanese women have rates of disease similar to white women.

Disease rates didn’t just vary by nationality; whether a woman was born in the United States or in another country was also a factor. U.S.-born Chinese and Filipina women under age 55 actually had higher rates of breast cancer than white women of the same age, Gomez said. The study looked at more than 20,000 breast cancer cases among six Asian ethnic groups from 1998 to 2004.

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Research into heart disease also has suffered from lumping Asians together. Asian American adults as a group are 50 percent less likely to die from heart disease than white adults, according to one study published in Thursday’s public health journal. But Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander adults, who are often included with Asians in health studies, are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than white adults.

Targeting prevention

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“The Asian and Pacific Islander community is very diverse. They range from very recent immigrants, such as Vietnamese, to fifth- and sixth-generation Japanese American or Chinese American,” Nguyen [Bang Hai Nguyen, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute] said. “Each of these ethnic groups also has particular needs and languages and cultures. If you are just reaching out in one language, you’re not really reaching everyone.”

[“Disparities in Breast Cancer Survival Among Asian Women by Ethnicity and Immigrant Status: A Population-Based Study,” by Scarlett Lin Gomez et al., is available here. There is a charge.]

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