Cancers occur when specific cells in the body malfunction and begin to divide uncontrollably; the resulting mass of cells forms a tumor. If the tumor continues to grow unchecked, it begins to invade the normally functioning cells of vital organs and can then become life-threatening.
All cancers combined is the leading cause of death for Asian-American/Pacific Islander women, and the second leading cause of death among other American women of color.
Examples of important disparities among minority women include:
- African American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. Tumors are found at a later, more advanced, stage so there are fewer treatment options. Some reasons for this may include not being able to get health care or not following-up after getting abnormal test results. Other reasons may include distrust of the health care system, the belief that mammograms are not needed, or not having insurance.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic/Latina women. Despite recent increases in screening rates, breast cancer still tends to be diagnosed at a later stage, when treatment options are more limited. Uninsured Hispanic/Latina women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.
- Breast cancer is less common in Asian American/Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian women than it is in white or African American women. But, more Asian American/Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian women have breast cancer than do Hispanic/Latina or American Indian/Alaska Native women. Also, the number of Asian American/Pacific Islander women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer has increased.
- Among all other populations in the U.S., Asian American/Pacific Islander women have the lowest death rate from breast cancer. However, among certain Pacific Islanders, death rates from breast cancer are much higher than other groups. Native Hawaiians have the highest death rate from breast cancer than any group in the U.S. Breast cancer also is the leading cause of death among Filipino women. We do not know why the rates vary between these groups. But, of all groups in this country, Asian American/Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian women are the least likely to have ever had a mammogram.
- Asian American/Pacific Islander women and Vietnamese American women especially, tend to have much lower rates of cervical cancer screening than other groups. Vietnamese women have high rates of cervical cancer, 5 times higher than rates for white women. Many Vietnamese women do not like to talk about disease as this is seen as bad luck. Modesty and the belief that only married women need to have pelvic exams and Pap tests means that cervical cancer is more often found in advanced stages.
- Hispanic/Latina women have the highest rates of new cases of cervical cancer and the second highest death rate from cervical cancer (behind African American women). In fact, Hispanic/Latina women are about one and a half times as likely as white women to die from cervical cancer. One reason for this is that Hispanic/Latina women have low rates of Pap testing. It is thought that as many as 80 percent of these deaths could be prevented by regular Pap screening and patient follow-up.
- African American women develop cervical cancer more often than white women and are more than twice as likely to die from it. Testing is very important to help reduce this disparity.
Last updated July 11, 2008
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