CINCINNATI—Hispanics are the fastest growing minority population in the United States, and a Cincinnati medical oncologist says this trend highlights the urgent need for a national health agenda on cancer prevention and education that spans both developed and developing countries.
Margie Gerena-Lewis, MD, of the University of Cincinnati (UC), will present her concerns at the annual meeting of National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) on Friday, March 23, in San Antonio. Gerena-Lewis is on an NHMA panel recommending potential solutions to chronic health care issues affecting Hispanics.
Gerena-Lewis says socioeconomic and lifestyle differences among the Hispanic population—including poor dietary habits, a lack of knowledge about infectious and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as increased tobacco use—have contributed to preventable cancer deaths among Hispanic-Americans.
She says a worldwide intervention and education initiative focused on lifestyle changes and early cancer detection could reduce cancer mortality rates among this growing population.
“Hispanics are traditionally poor and have limited to no access to health care when they come to the United States,” she explains. “The lack of resources often means they haven’t received preventive cancer screening exams, and they come to public health clinics with more advanced, difficult-to-treat cancers.”
In developing countries like Mexico, lack of knowledge about infectious diseases and sexually transmitted diseases can play a major role in cancer risk, explains Gerena-Lewis.
She says Spanish-speaking physicians across the United States need to actively seek out Hispanic populations in their communities to educate them about cancer risk factors and how simple lifestyle changes could lower that risk.
“More Hispanics enter the United States every day, so this isn’t an issue we can continue to ignore. It will impact our public health system,” says Gerena-Lewis, who treats patients at the Barrett Cancer Center in Cincinnati.
“We must develop a global initiative that enables physicians to intervene and educate the Hispanic population about their health and reduce the number of people dying from preventable cancers,” she adds.
According to the National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) data, based on rates from 2001 to 2003, 41 percent of men and women born in 2007 will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime. Reliable, early-detection screening tests are available for breast, colorectal, cervical and prostate cancer.