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Report finds minorities and poor at greater risk for cancer -- and questions why

minority cancer

In this story:

January 20, 1999
Web posted at: 1:34 a.m. EDT (1734 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Government research should boost efforts to understand why poor Americans and some ethnic minorities are more likely to develop and die from cancer, said a report published Wednesday.

The National Research Council, a committee of the Institute of Medicine, reports despite scientific gains in diagnosis and treatment, not all segments of the U.S. population have benefitted to the fullest extent from cancer research.

It is urging the National Institutes of Health, the government-funded medical research agency, to financially support more cancer studies of ethnic and poor populations.

The report, funded by the National Institutes of Health, says currently only 1 percent or $24 million of the agency's budget is currently earmarked for such studies.

"With the population becoming increasingly diverse, it is critical that we learn why some ethnic minorities and the medically underserved are more prone to cancer and less likely to survive it," said committee leader Alfred Haynes, former president of the Drew Postgraduate Medical School in Los Angeles, in a statement.

Specific cancers hit some populations harder

Rates of certain types of cancer among the poor and certain ethnic minorities have remained high even though overall cancer rates in the United States have fallen in recent years.

According to the report:

  • African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer.

  • Asian Americans are more likely to develop stomach and liver cancer than white Americans.

  • Cervical cancer rates are higher among woman of Hispanic and Vietnamese descent.

  • African-American women are less likely to develop breast cancer, but if they do get it, they are less likely than white women to survive.

  • Native Americans have the lowest cancer survival rates.

The report says more than race is involved in understanding cancer. For example, in Appalachian Kentucky, the incidence of lung cancer among white men was 127 per 100,000 in 1992. The rate is higher for that group than for any ethnic minority group in the United States at that same time.

Calls for more minorities in research

According to the committee findings, NIH should also improve collaborations with medical institutions that serve minority and poor populations, increase the number of ethnic and minority researchers in cancer, and enhance the ethnic diversity of its advisory panels.

In examining why cancer disproportionately affects minorities and the poor, the report cites funding constraints, lack of coordination among research programs and inadequate data collection.

The report says while late diagnoses and inadequate medical treatment among the under-insured and uninsured may be part of the reason for the differences in cancer survival rates, the underlying challenge is to explain why some ethnic groups develop cancer in the first place.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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