August 12, 2011

Race, Class, and Cancer

karen By Karen Sternheimer

If you are old enough to read this post, cancer has likely impacted you or someone you love, regardless of your race or class. No matter your background, most of us probably have known the pain of losing someone to cancer.

But according to recently released data from the American Cancer Society (ACS), cancer is more deadly for African Americans than whites and Latinos. And in most cases, those with less education are more likely to die of cancer too.

According the ACS report, deaths from cancer have fallen overall in recent years, particularly since the 1990s, but significant gaps remain. In the 25-64 age group, Americans with high school diplomas or less are more than twice as likely to die of cancer than those with college degrees.

Of course it’s not simply education that makes a difference, but the opportunities education typically reflects and affords in American society. College grads are less likely to be unemployed and earn more money, as you can see from the graph below. Employment and income often translate into regular access to health care, as many Americans get health insurance from their employer.


Education is also associated with healthier lifestyles. Those with college degrees are the least likely to smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are the least likely to be obese. It’s not that you learn these things in college, or that people without a college education just don’t know any better. Access to healthy food, which often costs more than high-fat processed options, is one factor benefitting those with higher incomes. The stress of financial problems, job instability, and neighborhood violence may also take a toll on those with less education, who may turn to food and cigarettes as coping mechanisms.

Because race and class have historically been intertwined in the United States, it may not be surprising that African Americans’ cancer death rates are higher than any other group.

But you might be surprised to learn that Latinos have the lowest death rates for most forms of cancer compared to whites or African Americans (the ACS study did not discuss Asian Americans or Native Americans). This despite having the highest rates of high school drop-outs, poverty rates nearly as high as African Americans and twice that of whites, and obesity rates 21 percent higher than whites.

Researchers call this the Latino paradox, and there are no easy answers to explain the disparities. It may be tempting to attribute this paradox to genetics, but American Latinos are not a monolithic group. One key might be in comparing recent immigrants to the US to those who have been here for a few generations. In many instances, immigrant populations tend to have longer life expectancy rates than their native-born peers, and as new generations become Americanized and adopt unhealthy lifestyle choices their death rates become more similar to the national rates. Some research suggests that Latinos’ tightly connected social networks have a positive influence on health.

A recent study found that in many U.S. counties, life expectancy is actually declining. According to the report, the lowest life expectancies can be found in Mississippi (the state with the highest poverty rate), where women on average live to be 74.5 and men live to be about 66. By contrast, life expectancies are longest in wealthier counties such as Fairfax County, Virginia (where men’s life expectancy is 81), and Collier County, Florida (where women on average live to be 86). Overall, the United States is ranked 38 internationally for life expectancy.

Yes, our genes and our lifestyle choices dramatically shape the length of our lives and the quality of our health. These factors are deeply implicated by our life chances: the opportunities that arise based on our social status.


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I live in southern Arizona, and I think another reason Latinos have lower cancer rates than Blacks would be diet. Latinos, at least here, are very into their culture's traditional diet - beans, corn, nopals (cactus), peppers, etc. - all very healthy. They don't seem to have gotten so heavily into processed foods. Communities with Latino populations have their own grocery stores. Here all stores have a Hispanic food aisle. It will be interesting to see if this continues into the next generations.

cool post...

By the way, we reached O'Connor through her Facebook page and published her comments and picture in our first report, but now, she's shut down her page.

Nice tips on cancer, taking a great healthy point you have made perfect to read everyone your healthy info

Recognize that the use of tobacco is by far the greatest risk factor for oral cancer. Do not use chewing tobacco, cigarettes, cigars or pipes if you want to prevent mouth cancer. Thanks.

Valuable article

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