More Asian American Women in California Are Getting Breast Cancer

The incidence of breast cancer among Asian Americans in California has been on the rise since 1988, a long-term study revealed.

The findings, published online before the April print of “Breast Cancer Research and Treatment”, showed that the largest increase occurred among Koreans, South Asians and Southeast Asians.

Researchers at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California (CPIC) evaluated incidence trends by age and stage among women of seven major ethnicities between 1988 and 2013. These include Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, South Asians (Asian Indians and Pakistanis) and Southeast Asians (Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians and Thai).

All groups showed an increased incidence for breast cancer except the Japanese, though they suffered the highest breast cancer rates.

Specifically, incidence rates among Koreans grew by 4.7% a year from 1988 to 2006. From 1988 to 2013, rates went up by 2.5% and 1.4% a year among Southeast Asians and South Asians, respectively.

In terms of age, women above 50 from all groups showed increases, while the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian groups showed increases among those younger than 50.

Meanwhile, increases in the incidence of late-stage disease were found among Filipinos, Koreans and South Asian women. The latter two were said to utilize mammography — the x-ray of the breast — the least, hence their greater numbers in late-stage detection.

Lead researcher Scarlett Lin Gomez, a Chinese-American, explained (via The Asian Journal), “These patterns warrant additional attention to public health prioritization to target disparities in access to care, as well as further research in identifying relevant breast cancer risk factors for specific breast cancer subtypes.”

“In particular, studies should investigate risk factors, perhaps early-life exposures, underlying the higher rates of breast cancer among young Filipino and Japanese women, with attention to possible genetic susceptibility,” she added.

Margaret Abe-Koga, a 46-year-old Japanese-American, expressed her shock after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She recalled how Asian Americans used to ignore the condition as it was believed to be uncommon in the community. She said (via The Mercury News):

“I started to think maybe there is that aspect within our community: Our folks are more silent about what they are going through and don’t necessarily share, or they aren’t getting the testing they should get.”

The study remains inconclusive of the exact causes of the steady incidence increases. Risk factors, however, may be unchangeable, lifestyle-related, have unclear effects or be disproven/controversial, the American Cancer Society noted.

Watch a screening guideline:

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