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Living in U.S. Raises Cancer Risk for Hispanics

Study Shows Cancer Rates Rise for Hispanics After They Move to U.S.
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 6, 2009 -- The risk of cancer for Hispanics increases by 40% when they move to the U.S., according to a new study.

The risks of specific cancers, however, differ widely among the Hispanic subgroups of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans, the researchers also found.

On the positive side, U.S. Hispanics generally have lower cancer incidence than non-Hispanic U.S. whites, says Paulo Pinheiro, MD, PhD, a researcher in the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, who led the study.

"On the negative side, they increase their risk when they come here for the majority of the analyzed [in his study] cancers," Pinheiro tells WebMD. The study is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers &Prevention.

For the study, Pinheiro and his colleagues analyzed data from the Florida cancer registry for the years 1999-2001 and the 2000 U.S. Census population data. They also used data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization.

It's been known, Pinheiro says, that Hispanics in the U.S. have a generally lower cancer incidence rate than non-Hispanic U.S. whites, especially for breast, colorectal, and lung cancer, but a higher incidence rate for cancers associated with infections and with lower socioeconomic status, such as cervical, liver, and stomach cancers.

But Pinheiro wanted to "unmask" the variation in cancer occurring in the Hispanic subpopulations of Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and others.

"This is the first time we have actually come up with numbers, with cancer rates for each population," he tells WebMD. "Florida is the perfect place to study a wide spectrum [of Hispanic subpopulations]," he says. "All subgroups are represented in sufficient numbers."

In all, nearly 302,000 cancers were diagnosed in Florida residents during the years studied, 1999 to 2001, and that included more than 30,000 Hispanic people, with 68% of them identified to a specific Hispanic subgroup.

Cancer Rates in U.S. vs. Country of Origin

Pinheiro found good and not-so-good news. "The good news is, for all Latinos, [total] cancer incident rates are still lower than for blacks or whites,'' Pinheiro says.

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