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Asian Americans and Cancer; Can Ethnicity Impact Your Intelligence?; Hiding the Shame of Mental Illness; Cosmetic Surgery; Asian American Children and Obesity

Aired May 12, 2007 - 08:30   ET


HOLMES: All right, Spider Marks for us. Always appreciate your expertise.
MARKS: T.J., thank you.

NGUYEN: And we are going to continue to follow these developments out of Iraq. We'll have more on this breaking news story at the top of the hour. But right now, we do want to join HOUSECALL with CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This is already in progress.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: ...and they have a lower risk of prostate cancer and breast cancer, but run greater danger of becoming afflicted with osteoporosis and diabetes.

And tuberculosis rates are staggering. Asian rates of infection are 21 times higher than white Americans, 21 times. And while Asian- American women live longer than any other group, interestingly, these same women have the highest suicide rates compared to all other races.

Today, there are more than 14 million Asian-Americans. And by every measure, they are the fastest growing group in the United States.


GUPTA: You know, the medical community is still debating whether ethnicity should be considered in the treatment or prevention of diseases, but there's little argument that outreach and education might be improved. Hoping to do that, for example, is "A Book of Hope: Stories of Healing to Honor Asian American and Pacific Islander Cancer survivors." It's a book for the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum. In it, our guest, Mai Tran, writes about her experience as a breast cancer survivor. She's also chairman of the Vietnamese Cancer Patient Support Group.

Welcome. Thanks for joining us.


GUPTA: Thanks so much for being here. In the Asian-American community, do they talk about cancer openly as in other communities?

TRAN: As in general, we don't talk much about cancer in our community at all. I have friends who die of cancer. And I didn't even know until the day of their funerals. And I think it's still something that we look as a result or something occurs from the past sinful life.

GUPTA: Does this sort of translate into all sorts of different things? For example, do they get screening? Do they get preventative testing against cancer?

TRAN: A lot of people don't. Because of time constraint, because of work, because we've too busy. Or maybe just the fact that they are more accustomed to the fact that going to the doctor only when they get sick.

GUPTA: And what you were saying earlier about this whole idea that if they have cancer, it may be reflective of sins in a previous life, you were saying. Is that what you were saying? I want to make sure I heard you correctly.

TRAN: Yes. It's some sort of preconceived, I do believe, preconceived idea about cancer. Cancer in the old time, I mean, 50, 60 years ago is like having a life sentence, a death penalty or something like that. So people are really afraid of the disease and don't want to talk about it at all.

GUPTA: You talked about your own experiences and put it in a book. So you're different than a lot of members of your community. What advice do you have for an Asian-American woman, for example, who has breast cancer but does not want to talk about it? Why talk about it?

TRAN: I do feel that going through the experience myself that having cancer is very -- it's a very scary disease. If we caught it early enough, then the chance of being cured is very high, especially for breast cancer.

The case of myself. I know that I am in stage one. And my chance is like 97 percent of survival.

However, during the treatment, during chemotherapy, I have a lot of, you know, side effects. And the side effects make the patients very irritable...

GUPTA: Right.

TRAN: ...very isolated.


TRAN: They feel depressed. And we need to have support, not just from the family and the friends, but also from the community. Anybody who has experience with cancer should get together and go into a support group and talk about it.

GUPTA: Let me tell you, you look great, by the way. And you look like you've had a very successful treatment. So I'm happy for you. Mai Tran, thanks so much for being our guest today. Really appreciate it. TRAN: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks for sharing your story with us. I think it's going to help a lot of people.

We move onto the question, though, of whether ethnicity can impact your intelligence? Nationally, Asian American students lead in overall grade point average and score higher on standardized tests. But the question is, that genetic?


GUPTA (voice-over): For Jimmy Hom, playing cello is a way of life. He's been studying at Julliard since the age of 10.

JIMMY HOM, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: You learn how to deal with yourself, you learn how to deal with pressure.

GUPTA: Pressure to be the best. He's editor-in-chief of his high school yearbook, achieved a perfect math score on his SATs, and is a finalist prize winner in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. So how did the Harvard-bound 18-year-old become a prodigy?

HOM: Academics was pretty much like the number one priority in my life.

GUPTA: Born to a Korean mother and a Chinese father, both immigrants to the United States, Jimmy was born here. As a senior in high school, he's fitting the profile of many Asian-Americans. Asian students consistently score significantly higher on SATs and other achievement tests. One-fourth of all Asians have a graduate degree, whereas just 1/10 of all Americans obtain a Master's or PH.D, which begs the question, are Asians naturally smarter, or is it something about the way they're raised?

Some scientific evidence suggests a genetic link, pointing to higher IQs in international studies, larger cranium sizes, faster reaction times. And a study of Asian children adopted and raised by white parents showed they, too, had higher IQ scores.

STANLEY SUE, UC DAVIS: They bring up all of the statistics, which appears to be substantial. But if you really investigate the implications, the methodology, and the conclusions, I think the environmental explanation, nurture, really comes out on top.

GUPTA: Nurture, stronger than nature, according to Dr. Stanley Sue. Sue explains for many Asians, the cultural view of the ideal person is one who is well educated, especially for immigrant parents wanting children to succeed.

SUE: How do you move ahead as an ethnic minority group? And Asians have found that education has really led to their success in becoming professionals.

GUPTA: So they work longer and harder to excel. SUE: If you talk to the kids themselves, they readily acknowledge this tremendous pressure for achievements. And many, in fact, feel that it's quite excessive. It creates, oftentimes, some feelings of inadequacy, inability to fulfill parents' expectations, and so on.

GUPTA: But Jimmy Hom says for him, it comes from within.


GUPTA: We, of course, wish Jimmy very good luck.

Right now, though, we turn to another kind of pressure, to save face to keep silent, to hide the shame of mental illness.

Elizabeth Cohen has that story.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shawn Nguyen is about to admit something her culture considers sinful.

Would you say that you were in a depression?

SHAWN NGUYEN: Oh, yes. I fell in a very, very deep, black hole.

COHEN: Admitting depression, even just talking about it is taboo. It's heresy in many Asian cultures. Still, if anyone has a reason to be depressed, it's Nguyen.

Forced to leave her home in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon, she was just 19, yet she led a group of 20 other refugees from newborns to the elderly from Vietnam, to the Philippines, to Guam, and finally, to a camp in Arkansas.

NGUYEN: That was very, very traumatizing.

GUPTA: Sounds like you had to flee terrible situations twice in your life.

NGUYEN: Oh, yes.

COHEN: Nguyen became a highly successful financial planner in New Orleans. But a few years ago, she left everything behind when she says she had to flee her marriage. She was diagnosed with colon cancer, and then had a heart attack. And despite all that, she was still expected to be stoic.

Here you are being very out in the open about your depression and your suicide attempts. What does your community think about being that honest?

NGUYEN: In Asia, you know, any time we talk about depression, it's a sign of weakness. Weaknesses should be well hidden, you know, behind closed doors. COHEN: Dr. Dung Ngo is a psychologist at Asian American Family Services in Houston. He says in his culture, asking for counseling is shameful, and not just for the person doing the asking.

DUNG NGO, PSYCHOLOGIST: It's very embarrassing for the whole family. Whatever you do, it represents the family's name.

COHEN: Nguyen sometimes felt she had no way out.

NGUYEN: There were times when I came very close to taking my life one way or another. There is a tiny, little voice at the end that said, no, you remember, you've been taught that you can't do that. That's not the way out.

COHEN: Now she makes a point of telling others they don't have to suffer quietly.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Houston.


GUPTA: Wow, Elizabeth, thank you so much.

Coming up on HOUSECALL ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this surgery is to Asians what breast augmentations are to mainland Americans.


GUPTA: A popular cosmetic operation that's already causing controversy.

Plus, a new link between HPV and cancer in both women and men. You're going to want to hear that.

And later, surging obesity rates in a population that is known to normally be lean. Is the American diet to blame? Stay with us.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. A common cosmetic procedure among young Asian women is causing some concern. Now the procedure actually makes their eyes look bigger. But as Alina Cho reports, critics believe this desire to look more Western detracts from their Asian heritage.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Annie Cheng is young and beautiful. She doesn't think so, yet. Do you think you're pretty?

ANNIE CHENG, EYELID SURGERY PATIENT: Not bad looking. I wouldn't say like really pretty, because my standard of pretty should be having big eyes.

CHO: Annie's features are typically Asian. Her eyelids are very small, almost non-existent. And that makes her eyes look small. But all of that is about to change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's very unique to Asians.

CHO: Soon, she'll undergo surgery to make the folds or ceases in her eyes bigger to create what's known in the Asian community as double eyelids.

CHENG: In general, I think double eyelids makes you look prettier and makes your eyes look bigger.

CHO: The man who will perform the surgery is Dr. Charles Lee. Lee is an expert in plastic surgery for Asians.

CHARLES LEE, DR., PLASTIC SURGEON: Well, this surgery is to Asians what breast augmentations are to mainland Americans.

CHO: To better understand it, we had Dr. Lee take a look at my face. First of all, I guess, tell me how my features differ from Caucasian features.

LEE: Sure. The most common or most obvious thing is the upper eyelid.

CHO: Lee says my folds, or eyelids, are small.

What I would recommend for your eyes is set your cease a little bit higher so that you look, your eyes look brighter.

CHO: By brighter, he means bigger, which is exactly what Annie wants. She wants to look a little like the Asian actresses she sees on TV and on the Internet. Back at Dr. Lee's office, Annie is now getting prepped for surgery. The surgery takes about 30 minutes. Basically, Dr. Lee is using stitches to force the skin to fold, creating a new, bigger eyelid, and in turn, a bigger eye.

LEE: When you finish this operation, she's still going to look Asian. You know, and she'll be grateful that I kept her looking Asian.

CHO: Eyelid surgery was introduced in the 1950s after the Korean War, when women wanted to look more Caucasian to impress American GIs. Critics of the surgery say Asian women who alter their eyelids are turning their back on their ethnic identity. Dr. Lee says that's impossible.

LEE: No one's going to mistake them for being Caucasian or African-American. They look Asian. So what we're trying to do is preserve ethnicity. And the bigger question is whether the standard of beauty is changing.

CHO: Two weeks after the surgery, we're back to see Annie again. The first thing we notice, besides her appearance, is that she's happy and confident. Her eyelids are clearly bigger. Though she feels sexier and more feminine, Annie says she's still the same person she was before the surgery.

CHENG: I still look Asian, but with the eyes now -- bigger eyes now, I just feel I look better. It's kind of like conceited to say that, but then, I just feel that way.

CHO: Alina Cho, CNN, Los Angeles.


GUPTA: I don't know if I want anyone operating on my eyelids. That doesn't look too pleasant.

Alina, thank you very much. And at home, don't go anywhere. When HOUSECALL returns, new links between HPV and cancers, affecting both women and men.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. Judy Fortin's here with some of this week's medical headlines. Judy?

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Sanjay. As you know, Human Papilloma Virus or HPV, is the leading cause of cervical cancer, but now Johns Hopkins researchers believe it may also be responsible for some throat cancers in men and women.

Oral sex is one of the top risk factors. 72 of the 100 patients studied with throat cancer were also found to have a form of HPV.

New evidence shows teens experimenting with smoking are heavily influenced by advertising. A report in the archives of Pediatrics in Adolescent Medicine reveals teen smoking habits are swayed by store displays, promotional giveaways, and price breaks. It suggests tobacco companies switched advertising in stores after many other forms of marketing were banned in 1998.

If you're guilty of parking your baby or toddler in front of the television, you're not alone. A new report estimates 90 percent of children 2 and under regularly watch TV. About a third of the 1,000 parents surveyed believed television was good for their child's brain. 23 percent thought the child enjoyed it. And 21 percent said it gave them time to get things done. I know I'm guilty of that. And there's always room for improvement. Sanjay?

GUPTA: Thanks, Judy. I'm guilty of that, of course, as well. Sometimes you feel like it's child abuse, just letting your kid watch some TV, but good to hear that I'm not alone. Stay where you are at home.

The stereotype is thin, but we're here with a reality check. Asian-American kids are breaking stereotypes. We've been talking about that, but this one, not such a good way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: We're back. And we're in the midst of a fit nation tour, encouraging everyone to get off the couch. Now one group traditionally not encouraged to exercise is now running into problems with rising obesity rates.


GUPTA (voice-over): It's supper time at the Yangs. Martin and Ingrid are immigrants from Taiwan. Now they make sure their kids eat traditional, healthy meals, but it's not always easy.

MARTIN YANG, FATHER: For kids' request, we will make some wisdom food. You know, a very common meal we make for them is like spaghetti and sometimes we order pizza. But that is occasionally, not our regular meal.

GUPTA: Those western foods are a real problem. Thin children are becoming overweight children in a short amount of time. According to the NIH, the Asian American community is now the fastest growing population in the country when it comes to childhood obesity. Doctors say it's lifestyle. Many Asian parents who come to the U.S. hold down two jobs in order to make ends meet.

They turn to fast foods to feed their families.

JUDY CHEN, DR., UCLA: Suddenly, McDonalds is very, you know, is very popular. Suddenly fried foods are introduced into their diets. They're eating cheese that they're not used to eating.

GUPTA: Because these first generation youngsters are accustomed to low fat, low calorie foods, their bodies can't as easily handle American cuisine. And they begin to gain weight quickly.

Making things worse, many Asian kids don't get enough exercise.

CHEN: Their parents still emphasize the traditional be a good student, you know, don't go out and play too much.

GUPTA: California is trying to change that, sending notices to Asian media groups, telling parents obesity has become a problem.

KRIS PERRY, EX. DIR., "FIRST'S CALIFORNIA": We want them to know that this is going on. And start to give them suggestions of how to reduce the overweight and obesity trends in their community.

GUPTA: California hopes their new media campaign helps Asian parents make healthier choices for their kids, and want to share their ideas with other states to keep Asian obesity rates from climbing even higher.


GUPTA: We're going to keep an eye on those numbers as well.

Coming up on HOUSECALL, a tip for all the Moms out there.


GUPTA: Welcome back. On this Mothers Day weekend, I wish all the moms out there very good health. So aside from eating healthy and staying active, make sure to (INAUDIBLE) your bodies and be an advocate in your healthcare. Ask questions, demand answers.

This coming week, I have an exclusive interview with First Lady Laura Bush, who's a great advocate for women's health. Tune in next weekend to see that interview and hear the one piece of advice she has for all women.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Happy Mothers Day, mom. Today's headlines are next in the NEWSROOM.


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