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Could Western Influence Be the Cause of Breast Cancer Cases in Most Asian-American Women

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A study conducted by the Cancer Prevention Institute of California revealed a rising rate of breast cancer among Asian-American women over the last 15 years in the state. A research scientist from the institute reported ‘Westernization’ among others as possible underlying causes.


The Research at Cancer Prevention Institute of California

The study analyzed seven major groups of Asian-American ethnicity. These include South Asians (India & Pakistan), Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Southeast Asians(Laos, Cambodia, Thai, and Hmong.)

The data for the analytic study was taken from over 46000 cases of invasive breast cancer reported in California. The researchers divided the data into Asian-American ethnic groups and subdivided it by the age and stage of cancer of all participants.

The study determined the rate of increase of breast cancer cases per 100,000 women for different time intervals. The final chart indicates that the breast cancer rate rose for all Asian-American groups in between 1988 and 2013.

The rate of breast cancer occurrences grew by 1.4% for South Asians and 2.5% for Southeast Asians between 1988 and 2013. Between 1988 and 2006, the rate increase was 4.7% for Koreans(up to 2006) after which it declined slightly.

The General Confusion and Unawareness Regarding Breast Cancer Rates

Margaret Abe-Koga discovered her tumour in 2015. Helen Chen was diagnosed in 2009 with breast cancer. Both these women were either dismissive of breast cancer in young people, unaware of their family links to the disease, or never considered the slightest possibility of falling in a propensity group for breast cancer before their diagnosis.

The 2013 report of U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention mentioned white women as the group with the highest rate of breast cancer. With the recent findings standing in contradiction to the CDC report, the confusion among women is both expected and obvious.

However, the CDC report was based on nation-wide research while this California-based research is the first of its kind to focus on the patterns of breast cancer among the major Asian-American groups.

Researchers Suggest Reasons Behind the Rise in Breast Cancer Cases Among Asian-American Women in the US

Scarlett Lin Gomez, the lead author of the study, said that further research is required to unveil the exact reasons behind the rise in breast cancer rates in Asian-American women. She also put stigmatisation and westernisation as two possible causes.

The Asian-American group with the highest increase in figures includes recent US immigrants. Japanese and Chinese women who have lived in the US for quite some time now saw a levelled or negligible increase.

Expanding on Westernisation, Gomez mentioned lifestyle changes that could have exposed the recent immigrants to breast cancer. The risk factors include different diet, increased alcohol intake, obesity, decreased exercise or physical movement, having fewer children, getting pregnant later in life, etc. For instance, soy consumption, known for acting as a shield against cancer if taken early in life, is used more profusely in Asian food trends than in the US.

Stigmatisation Is Another Major Cause

Helen Chen, who holds a master’s degree in public health, had an aunt had breast cancer and chose to avoid mentioning it to her relatives. Betty de Guzman discovered her breast tumour in 2001, shortly after she immigrated to the US from the Philippines. Her sister had breast cancer and had a double mastectomy years ago. They, however, had never talked about it until Guzman’s diagnosis.

Chen is Taiwanese-American. She blames the unnecessary sense of shame for the aversion that women in her family have regarding discussing breast cancer. Guzman mentioned how women fail to examine themselves, also pointing at the deep sense of shame associated with the act.

Guzman, when talking about Filipino superstitions, also mentioned how many people from her country preferred to stay silent on the topic after being diagnosed because they were ashamed. Many patients genuinely believe that they are paying for wrong deeds.

Women dance around the bush when they should be sitting their family down for a direct conversation about breast cancer. This topic is immensely stigmatised. As a result, women overlook their family history and often end up surrounded by risk factors that boost their odds of developing the disease.

On the other hand, a non-superstitious reason for the rising breast cancer rates in Asian-African women can be the lack of knowledge. Not knowing where to turn for the right kind of help is almost always damaging.

The Delay in Follow-Up Treatment

Being aware of the disease isn’t enough. Another study led by Kim Hanh Nguyen from the University of California reveals that Asian-American women don’t receive proper follow-up treatment after an abnormal mammogram.

This new study analysed 50,000 breast cancer cases for San Francisco women between 2000 and 2010. Research scientist Nguyen and Dr Leah Karliner unveiled the delay between diagnosis and follow-up.

Only about 57% Asian women received follow-up tests against 77% of white women within 30 days. While the study didn’t include Latino and Black women, only a small number of Asian women were found to be followed up after a year.

Nguyen suggested basic medical inefficiencies and cultural stigmas as a cause behind the poor follow-up rates. The language difference, lower insurance rates, lack of proper services, shame associated with revealing the disease to family, the desire to not trouble friends/family are a few reasons that impact the patient’s follow-up care.

Is There a Solution Here?

Gomez says that studying different Asian-American groups & their immigration history and comparing their situation to the women back in Asia could help reveal insights that may assist in diffusing the situation.

Nguyen suggests hiring more staffers with diverse language skills, cultural awareness, and outreach training. Process for monitoring and tracking patients also need improvements.

Helen Chen, who is now a survivor of breast cancer, urges the Asian-American women to participate in clinical trials. Better breast cancer research could only help improve the situation. Chen also mentions working as much as she can to ensure an enhanced level of knowledge about breast cancer in young women.

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