Cancer, the price of immigration?



travel_girlMany people move to the United States to find a better life. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out especially when it comes to health. Take for example the Hispanics. According to this study by researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine , Hispanics who migrated to the US have a 40% increase of likelihood to develop certain types of cancer. The study looked at more than 300,000 cancer patients included in the Florida Cancer Data system from 1999 to 2001. Data analysis showed that Hispanics in the state have a higher risk to develop cancer compared to those who stayed at home .However, the increase was not homogenously observed among all Hispanics. The highest cancer rates were observed among the Puerto Ricans, followed by the Cubans, while the Mexicans have the least increase.

The researchers hypothesize that a major reason for the increase in cancer rates is the exposure and adoption of the immigrants to less healthy lifestyles with include:

  • Unhealthy diet (e.g. increase consumption of fatty and junk food)
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Increased cigarette smoking

However, the role that better diagnostic services in the US play in this cannot be ruled out.

The lifestyle change hypothesis explains why some Hispanics are more vulnerable than others. The Puerto Ricans were among those who have lived the longest in the US whereas the Mexicans were virtually newcomers.

According to study leader Dr. Paulo Pinheiro

“Mexicans in Florida are very recent arrivals. They have had less exposure to the U.S. environment.”

The Cubans in the US have the most dramatic risk increase compared to those who stayed home. In particular, this group of Hispanics is susceptible to colorectal, endometrial and prostate cancers which might be partly influenced by diet.

The Puerto Ricans are more likely to develop alcohol-related cancers such as cancer of the liver.

Male Hispanics have increased incidence of cigarette-related cancers especially lung cancer whereas female Hispanics have increased incidence of cervical cancer compared to those who did move to the US.

Despite the observed increased rates, Hispanics still fare relatively better compared to non-immigrant Americans in terms of cancer rates.

The Hispanics are not the only immigrants whose health is affected by lifestyle change in the new country. Breast cancer incidence is very low among Asian women but increases in incidence among those who moved to the US.

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