Cancer is leading cause of death for US Hispanics

Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics living in the United States, according to a report Wednesday by the American Cancer Society.

While heart disease is the top killer in the nation as a whole, cancer kills more often among Hispanics, the largest minority group in the United States, making up 17.4 percent of the population.

And the problem of cancer could get worse in the coming years, now that most of the population's growth is coming from US-based births rather than immigration, experts said.

"The growth in the population of US residents of Hispanic origin is now driven primarily by births, not immigration, which will probably change the future cancer risk profile of this group," said Rebecca Siegel, director of surveillance information for the American Cancer Society and lead author of the report.

"The second generation, born and raised in the US and more intertwined in our lifestyle, including our diet, has higher cancer rates than first-generation immigrants, so we may see a higher cancer burden in this group in the future."

This year, 125,900 new cancer cases and 37,800 cancer deaths are expected among Hispanics/Latinos in the US, said the report produced every three years by the American Cancer Society and published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Lung cancer causes about one in six (17 percent) cancer deaths in Hispanic men, followed by colon cancer and liver cancer.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanic women, followed by lung and colorectal cancers.

Overall, cancer death rates have been decreasing since the mid 1990s in both Hispanic men and women.

Cancer incidence is also dropping among Hispanics by about 2.4 percent yearly in men and 0.5 percent in women, mirroring trends among non-Hispanic whites.

Even though cancer is the top killer among Hispanics, the study noted that cancer is actually far less common in Hispanics than in whites.

"Overall, cancer incidence rates are 20 percent lower in Hispanics than in non-Hispanic whites and cancer death rates are 30 percent lower," said the report.

"This is mainly because Hispanics are less likely than non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with the four most common cancers (prostate, breast, lung, and colon). However, Hispanics have a higher risk of cancers associated with infectious agents, such as those of the stomach, liver, and cervix."

Hispanics are often diagnosed with advanced disease.

"Although less access to high-quality care due to lower socioeconomic status contributes to this disparity, some studies have shown that Hispanics are at higher risk of advanced-stage disease even when socioeconomic status and health care access are similar," said the report.

The study urged targeted, community-based intervention programs to increase screening and vaccination and encourage healthy lifestyle behaviors.