Hispanics Living in U.S. Have Higher Cancer Risk Than Those in Native Countries

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A study found that Hispanics living in the United States are more likely to develop any type of cancer compared to Hispanics living in their native countries.

Hispanics from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico who lived in Florida were 40% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer compared to Hispanics living in the countries in which they were born. Other research has found a similar pattern of higher cancer risk in other ethnic groups living in the United States; Asians, for example. This study didn't focus specifically on breast cancer, but other studies have found a similar pattern with breast cancer risk.

Your genetic makeup plays a major role in your risk of developing cancer, including breast cancer. Still, much evidence shows that diet, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors also greatly influence a person's risk of being diagnosed with cancer. When people from one country move to another country, they usually adopt the diet and lifestyle of their new home over time. Environmental factors also may be different in the new country -- pollution levels or hygiene practices, for example. Since genetics don't change, any difference in cancer risk between people who move away from their native country and people who stay in their native country are likely because of changes in diet, lifestyle, and the environment.

While this study didn't look at the specific diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors that likely caused the higher cancer rates of Hispanics living in the United States, it's likely that the following factors are contributing to the higher risk:

  • diets that tend to be higher in fat and lower in fruits and vegetables
  • higher obesity rates
  • more smoking and alcohol consumption
  • a more sedentary lifestyle
  • pollution

The study reviewed here found that Hispanics living in the United States were less likely than non-Hispanic whites to develop cancer, particularly breast and lung cancer. This difference is largely the result of genetic differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.

The study also found that cancer rates varied depending on a person's birth country. Hispanics from Mexico were the least likely to develop cancer. Hispanics from Puerto Rico were the most likely to develop cancer. These differences are mostly due to genetic differences. Because there is great genetic diversity within the entire Hispanic population, the researchers recommended future studies consider the birth country of individual Hispanics.

While none of us can control our genetics, everyone can make diet, lifestyle, and environmental changes that can keep cancer risk, including breast cancer risk, as low as it can be. Visit the Breastcancer.org Lower Your Risk section to learn more.

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