Hispanic Cancer Rates Change After U.S. Immigration

Many Hispanic immigrants who relocate to the United States face much higher cancer rates than those in the country they left behind, new research shows.

While the U.S. might provide more cancer screening and often better health care overall, said Paulo Pinheiro, an epidemiologist with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the study's lead author, "For Hispanic populations, there are beneficial lifestyles associated with their origin that probably should be kept. There are lifestyles that may be more prevalent in the U.S. that probably should be avoided."

Cancer can be 40 percent more common for Hispanics after they immigrate, the study showed -- though it warned doctors not to rely on that figure alone.

Pinheiro and his colleagues found that cancer rates in these groups tend to rise or fall with expected rates among their American counterparts, but that rates for immigrants from Cuba, Mexico or Puerto Rico can be very different.

"Hispanic populations shouldn't all be considered together. There are specificities to each one of them," he said.

The University of Miami study looked at cancer rates among Florida residents and found that rates among Cuban immigrants closely followed those seen in white residents of the state, while Puerto Ricans "consistently showed the highest cancer rates of all Hispanic subpopulations." Mexicans had the lowest cancer rates but had high rates of cancers typically associated with minority populations, such as stomach, cervix and liver cancer.

The study also looked at "New Latinos," a varied group that included Hispanics who came from Spain, the Dominican Republic and South and Central American countries. These groups had low rates of lung cancer, high rates of thyroid cancer and high rates of cancer that would be expected in a minority population.

To conduct the study, researchers used numbers from the Florida cancer registry from 1999 through 2001, and used data from the 2000 census to generate estimates of cancer rates in the United States. They compared this to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization.

Researchers looked at rates of cancer incidence among Hispanics who had immigrated to the United States from Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico and compared them to the rates seen in their home countries. They also compared these rates to those seen in non-Hispanic whites and blacks in the U.S.

Experts not involved with the study noted that a pattern of typically increased cancer rates is not uncommon when a group immigrates to the U.S.

"This study is [reminiscent] of studies from the late 1960s that looked at immigrants from China and Japan to the U.S.," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. "They raise risk of cancer by immigrating and raise rates for second generation Americans even more so."

Reasons for Trend Remain Unclear

While the study indicated a strong change in cancer rates among Hispanic immigrants to the U.S., it could not explain exactly why this occurred.

However, the researchers say the data provide some clues.

Pinheiro said that among the changes in cancer rates, one of the most striking is the rise in colorectal cancer rates, which nearly doubled among Puerto Ricans, nearly tripled among Mexicans and more than tripled among Cubans.

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