According to 2010 United States Census Bureau statistics released earlier this year, Hispanics are now the majority minority in Texas, making up 38 percent of the total population. With so many Latinos living in the Lone Star State, it’s important for this group to be aware of the potential cancer risks facing them based on their heritage and what they can do to minimize those risks.
The American Cancer Society estimated 47,900 new cancer diagnoses in Hispanic men and 51,000 in Hispanic women in 2009, the latest numbers available for this group. The most commonly diagnosed cancers among Hispanics are prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women. Other common cancers among Latinos include colorectal and lung, and Hispanics have a higher rate of liver and cervical cancers than most other groups.
While many factors can contribute to a cancer diagnosis, there are several things that Hispanics can do now to increase their chances of living a long, healthy life.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, rates of obesity are higher in Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites. Obesity is associated with an increased risk of several cancers, including breast, prostate and colon. Obesity also increases the risk of diabetes, another major health issue affecting Hispanics. An adult with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater is considered obese.
Hispanics can maintain a healthy body weight by eating a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting intake of red meat, high-fat foods and alcohol. Participating in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise at least five times a week is also recommended.
Like all smokers, Hispanic smokers can reduce their risk of lung cancer and other smoking related diseases by quitting. But taking action to stop smoking isn’t often prompted by a physician in this ethnic group. Studies have found that Hispanics are less likely to be advised to quit by a healthcare provider when trying to quit than non-Hispanic whites.
So, this is where the importance of family comes into play. The Hispanic culture has a wonderful sense of family that can serve as a much-needed support for smokers who are trying to quit. Family members can help their loved ones quit by participating in other fun activities with them to keep them busy and distracted. They can also help keep their family members accountable and provide encouragement.
GET REGULAR SCREENINGS AND RECOMMENDED VACCINES
Low screening participation rates make Hispanics more likely to be diagnosed at a more advanced stage of the disease when fewer treatment options are available, resulting in poorer outcomes. Screening exams help diagnose cancer at the earliest stages, when treatment will be the most effective.
Texas Oncology-McAllen recommends regular clinical screening and/or self-exams for breast, prostate, colorectal, skin and testicular cancers. Because Hispanics have a higher rate of cervical cancer than many other groups, women should get regular Pap tests.
Both women and men should consider getting the HPV vaccine because it can help prevent some forms of cancer such as cervical, head and neck.
PROTECT YOURSELF FROM THE SUN
It’s a myth that skin cancer only affects Caucasian men and women and those with lighter skin. Everyone is at risk for skin cancer—according to the National Cancer Institute, approximately seven percent of all skin cancer cases occur in patients of Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American or Native American descent.
It’s important to practice sun safety when you are outdoors, including wearing sunscreen. The FDA recently ruled that by next summer, sunscreen manufacturers must start noting on their labels whether the product provides both UVA and UVB protection. Choose a sunscreen that provides protection from both types of UV radiation, as this will be most beneficial in reducing your risk of skin cancer. Texas Oncology also recommends wearing a hat with a two- to three-inch brim to protect your face and neck, as well as sunglasses with at least 99 percent UV absorption to protect your eyes.
FIND THE RIGHT PHYSICIAN
In the Hispanic culture, mutual respect and trust are necessary elements in a successful relationship between a patient and healthcare provider. So no matter what your personal risk factors, finding the right doctor to manage your on-going health is of the utmost importance. You should choose a physician that you are comfortable with, who listens to your health concerns and will help guide your overall well-being.