Minority Cancer Awareness

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: April 9, 2014

April 13-19, 2014 is Minority Cancer Awareness week, an annual event drawing attention to the disproportionate impact cancer has on minorities. Minority populations are more likely to be diagnosed with certain types of cancer and more likely to die from the disease.

Some of the troubling facts include:

  • African Americans are more likely to develop and die from cancer than any other racial or ethnic group.
  • African Americans (AAs) are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage and less likely than their white counterparts to survive 5 years, regardless of the stage at diagnosis.
  • Colon cancer rates are particularly distressing, given the preventable nature of the disease. Rates of the disease are 17% higher in AAs than whites, but screening rates are far lower.
  • Fewer AA women develop breast cancer overall, yet more AA women die from the disease than white women.

Other minority groups are not spared.

  • Hispanics have higher rates of cervical, liver (rates are double that in whites), gall bladder and stomach cancers. These types are associated with certain infections and are thought to be largely preventable if the infections are treated or avoided. Such infections include Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Hepatitis, Salmonella and H Pylori.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Hispanic women, who tend to be diagnosed at later stages.
  • Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Hispanics, American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives have higher rates than whites of several cancers (lung, colorectal, kidney, stomach, liver, cervical and gall bladder).
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death in Asian Americans.
  • The types of cancer affecting Asian Americans vary greatly depending on their country of origin, but higher rates of prostate and cervical cancer are seen in many groups.

Why have these groups not seen the successes in cancer survival that their white counterparts have seen over the last decade? No one factor is to blame, but a combination of lifestyle, cultural beliefs, genetics and access to care. Most experts agree the most common factors are:

  • Lack of medical insurance of poor coverage
  • Barriers to early detection (lack of access, cultural beliefs)
  • Language barriers
  • Unequal access to cutting edge treatments, which may include discrimination in the health care system
  • Genetic and biologic differences in the tumors of varying ethnic groups, making standard treatments not extremely effective for them.

While healthcare access is a key issue, equally important is the education among minorities about risk and the importance of screening. Learn more:

A few of the minority cancer issues addressed in the medical literature recently include:

Want to learn more? Visit these links:

The CDC’s Section on Health Disparities in Cancer has information about cancer risk for a number of minority groups.

The National Cancer Institute’s Multicultural Media Outreach (MMO) Program provides culturally relevant information addressing cancer prevention, treatment, survivorship, health disparities, clinical trials, and other related topics.

Learn more about cancer in African Americans through the ACS annual Facts & Figures publications.

Learn more about cancer in Hispanics / Latinos through the ACS annual Facts & Figures publications.

Cultural and Socioeconomic Factors Affecting Cancer Screening, Early Detection and Care in the Latino Population

Learn more about disparities in the American Indian & Alaskan Native populations from the Northwest Tribal Cancer Control Project.

Frequently Asked Questions