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Cancer now the No. 1 killer of Hispanics, report finds


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

In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, 29,935 people of Hispanic origin in the U.S. died of cancer, compared with 29,611 deaths from heart disease. Among non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, heart disease remained the leading cause of death.

Hispanics/Latinos are the largest and fastest growing major demographic group in the United States, accounting for 16.3% (50.5 million) 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 10 years of available data (2000-2009), cancer incidence rates declined by 1.7% per year for men and 0.3% per year for women. That compares to declines of 1% and 0.2% among non-Hispanic men and women, respectively.

Cancer death rates among Hispanics declined by 2.3% per year in men and 1.4% per year in women during that same time period, compared with annual declines of 1.5% and 1.3% 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 and bronchus, and colorectum). The most notable example is lung cancer, for which rates among Hispanics are about 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 ACS.

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% to 70% higher in Hispanic women compared to non-Hispanic white women. 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, according to the report. Just one in 10 U.S. Hispanics is 55 or older, the age group among which the majority of cancers are diagnosed, compared with almost one in three non-Hispanics.

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

Hispanics in the U.S. are a diverse group because they originate from any different countries, the authors noted. As a result, cancer patterns among Hispanic populations vary substantially. For example, in Florida the cancer death rate among Cuban men is double that of Mexican men.

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

“There is substantial heterogeneity within the U.S. Hispanic population,” Rebecca Siegel, MPH, the lead author of the report, said in a news release. “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.”

The report, “Cancer Statistics for Hispanics/Latinos 2012,” appears in the September/October issue of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and its companion publication, “Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos, 2012-2014.” To read the report, visit


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