Bloomington / Normal, IL

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Cancer Knows No Race


By Lisa Lowry MSN, RN, OCN, CMS

Cancer has likely affected everyone at some point in their life, whether it is through a personal battle, a family member, friend, or coworker. Though it can be difficult at times to pinpoint an exact cause for cancer, one thing we have learned is that race and ethnicity play a role in the diagnosis of various cancers. Certain populations may have a higher risk of developing and dying from cancer based on race/ethnicity; however, lifestyle and cultural differences play a part also. “Cancer health disparities” is the term used for how cancer affects different groups of people in different ways. Income, lack of health insurance, or access to timely medical care, environmental exposure, and diet, along with genetics and the use of prevention and screening techniques are factors associated with cancer health disparities.

Some cancers are more common in minorities. For example, African-American women are almost twice as likely to have triple negative breast cancer than Caucasian women. The number of breast cancer deaths in African-American and Asian women is also high, which is attributed to a lack of yearly mammograms and clinical breast exams. Kidney cancer has the highest rates of diagnosis and death in American Indians, likely due to environmental and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, obesity, and hypertension. African-American men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with either prostate cancer or multiple myeloma than white men, with prostate cancer deaths twice as likely than any other group. Hispanics and Asians have lower rates of lung cancer than the non-Hispanic white population as they are less likely to smoke. Genetically, women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more likely to have a breast cancer risk related to the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 gene mutation.

Even though different populations have a higher risk of being diagnosed with certain cancers, here are four ways to decrease that risk by living a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Stay at a healthy weight and exercise regularly
    Studies show that eating a variety of different vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and fish or poultry helps reduce risk of developing certain cancers. On the other hand, eating more red meat, or processed meat — such as bacon, lunch meat, or hot dogs — is linked with a higher risk of developing certain cancers. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many cancers, including breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, esophageal, and pancreatic. You can help control your weight through regular exercise and healthy eating.

  2. Avoid tobacco
    If you don’t use tobacco products, don’t start. If you do, quit. About 80 percent of lung cancer deaths and 40 percent of all cancer deaths overall are caused by tobacco use.

  3. Limit alcohol
    Research has shown that alcohol can increase your risk for certain cancers, including breast, mouth, throat, esophageal, liver, and colorectal. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk.

  4. Get regular cancer screening tests
    Regular screening tests can catch some cancers early, when they’re small, have not spread to other parts of the body, and are typically easier to treat. Talk with your doctor about screening tests for breast, cervical, colon, lung, and prostate cancers.

By living a healthy lifestyle and accessing prevention and screening techniques, such as mammograms or colonoscopies, you can work on reducing your risk regardless of your background.

The Community Cancer Center offers a variety of free supportive and educational programs to help patient and families cope with cancer and its effects. For more information, go to