Study Finds Cancer Mortality in Hispanics Varies Among Ethnic Groups

Key Points

  • Compared with other Hispanic groups, Cubans and Puerto Ricans had significantly higher mortality rates. Cubans had the highest lung cancer mortality rates of all ethnic groups, and Puerto Ricans had the highest rates of liver cancer among all groups analyzed. Cubans and Puerto Ricans also had higher-than-average mortality rates from colorectal and endometrial cancers, and prostate cancer mortality among Dominicans was nearly double that of non-Hispanic whites.
  • The significantly higher mortality rates for colorectal, endometrial, and prostate cancers among the Cuban immigrant population in comparison to non-Hispanic whites suggest that Western risk factors such as obesity may be an important focus for intervention.
  • Understanding the acculturation differences among Hispanic ethnic groups may help to identify interventions to counteract unfavorable trends toward worsening cancer outcomes.

Although cancer is a leading cause of death among Hispanics, the burden of cancer mortality within Hispanic groups has not been well quantified. Now, a study by Pinheiro et al comparing the differences among Hispanic populations and cancer incidence has found that cancer mortality varies considerably among Hispanic ethnic groups, with Cubans having the highest overall mortality rate. Understanding the acculturation differences among Hispanic ethnic groups may help to target interventions to counteract unfavorable trends toward worsening cancer outcomes. The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention.

Study Methodology

To compare cancer mortality among various Hispanic ethnic groups, the researchers analyzed mortality data in Florida residents from 2008 to 2012 obtained from the Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. The data were computed on the basis of race, ethnicity, and birthplace, specifically focusing on major Hispanic groups, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central Americans, South Americans, and Dominicans.

Age-adjusted mortality rate ratios derived from negative binomial regression were used to compare Hispanics, aggregated and by group, to non-Hispanic whites.

Study Findings

The researchers analyzed a total of 205,369 cancer deaths, of which 22,042 occurred in Hispanics. They found that overall cancer mortality rates were lower for Hispanics, 159 and 100 per 100,000 in males and females, respectively, compared with 204 and 145 per 100,000 in non-Hispanic whites, largely driven by relatively low rates of lung and breast cancers among Hispanics. However, Hispanics had a higher risk of death from stomach and liver cancers, both related to infection.

Of all Hispanic groups, Mexicans had the lowest mortality, whereas Cubans had the highest, with significantly higher mortality for colorectal, endometrial, and prostate cancers.

Diet and Obesity Are Factors in Cancer Onset

The study authors concluded that compared with other Hispanic groups, Cubans and Puerto Ricans had significantly higher rates of cancer. “For these longer-established populations in the United States, increases in diet and obesity-related cancers are evident,” wrote the study authors. “Some groups show excesses that clearly fall out of the common Hispanic patterns, with implications for public health: Cubans for colorectal cancer, Puerto Ricans for liver cancer, and Dominicans for prostate cancer.”

In a statement on the study results, lead author Paulo S. Pinheiro, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said his findings suggest that as more Hispanics settle in the United States, they should be cautious about adopting the typical American diet. “They would do well to remember the diets of their home countries,” said Dr. Pinheiro. “Rice and beans, grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables may be more beneficial than the food they will be exposed to in America.”

This study was partially funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

The study authors declared no potential conflicts of interest.


The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.




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