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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

SDSU Study: Cancer Mortality Differs Among Asian Ethnic Groups

The growing Asian-American population in the United States has a diverse set of health behaviors and outcomes, and may benefit from cancer prevention and screening efforts tailored to specific Asian ethnic groups, according to a study led by researchers at San Diego State University Graduate School of Public Health and Stanford University, and published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

In recent years, Asian-Americans have surpassed Hispanics as the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the United States. There are currently 17.3 million Asian Americans, representing 5.6 percent of the population. By the year 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates the Asian-American population will exceed 40 million. Beginning in 2003, U.S. death certificates identified six major subgroups of the Asian population—Asian-Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Until the release of the new death certificate, only seven states collected detailed information on Asian ethnicity, which limited knowledge of how cancer affected each group, said Dr.  Caroline A. Thompson, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health at SDSU and the study’s lead author.

For this National Institutes of Health–funded study, the study’s senior author, Dr. Latha P. Palaniappan,  a clinical professor of medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Thompson and colleagues obtained data on 85,616 cancer-related deaths from 2003 to 2011 from the National Center for Health Statistics. They examined mortality statistics by cancer type, sex, and ethnicity. Some key findings:

The authors suggested that screening efforts tailored to specific populations could be useful in preventing cancer or diagnosing it at an earlier stage. For example, they noted, gastric cancer screening programs are well established in Japan and South Korea, and could potentially benefit the Japanese and South Korean population living in America. Such efforts would benefit significantly from the continued collection of data on specific Asian subgroups, they added. “We believe this study highlights the importance of capturing and considering distinct Asian ethnicity in census data, disease surveillance and vital statistics data, as well as medical records and research studies,” Dr. Palaniappan said.

Thompson said a limitation of the study is the potential for misclassification, since death certificates are generally completed by medical personnel who may not know detailed ethnicity.

SDSU was recently awarded a $10 million endowment by the National Institutes of Health to improve infrastructure supporting population health and health disparities research at the university.