Dept. of Diversity: Cancer-Related Risk Factors in Hispanics

A report last month in the American Cancer Society’s journal CA detailed the rates of cancer-related risk factors in US Hispanics/Latinos (report), and one of the parts of the report that stood out to us were the rates of certain behaviors in adolescents that could have implications for cancer risk later in life.

As we’ve written about previously (most recently here), early life is being seen as an increasingly important time in the development of some cancers (see figure).  This is particularly so for breast cancer, but with the development of the HPV vaccine, it’s also an important time for combatting later cervical cancer risk (more on this here). And even if certain risk factors don’t have a unique age-dependent impact, they can be lifestyle choices – like smoking and eating an unhealthy diet – that have a high likelihood of getting cemented in youth and carried through adulthood.

What the new report found was that Hispanic/Latino kids had risky levels of a number of key cancer risk factors.  A little over 23 percent of Hispanic adolescents were obese, compared to 16 percent of non-Hispanic whites.  Only 56 percent of Hispanic adolescent girls who started the series of HPV vaccinations got all the needed shots, compared to 75 percent of whites.  And although rates of cigarette use (18 percent) and alcohol use (43 percent) were better than those of non-hispanic whites, they were only slightly so, and still high enough to be of concern.

While these numbers point to an increased cancer burden if they remain unchanged, on average they aren’t much worse or much better compared to other groups in the United States.  But, they do show that Hispanic adolescents have unique risk profiles, and any efforts to improve these numbers must also take into account Hispanic adolescents’ unique social and cultural environment.

It’s a reminder that we’re a diverse country – racially/ethnically, economically, geographically – and to make real and lasting strides in improving the nation’s health, we need make sure we understand not only what is going on in the nation as a whole, but also what is going in specific populations that make up the whole – and tailor efforts appropriately.

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