July 3, 2023 : A recent study published in JAMA Oncology reveals a concerning trend of rising death rates from certain cancers among Hispanic men and women. At the same time, the rest of the population experienced a decline in mortality rates. The findings shed light on the impact of limited access to healthcare, making cancer the leading cause of death among Hispanics, despite their relatively low incidence of the disease. As managing editors, we delve into the study’s details and the underlying factors contributing to these disparities.
Study Findings: Conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Cancer Center, the study shows an overall decline in cancer mortality among Hispanics by 1.3% per year from 1999 to 2020. However, there were significant increases in death rates for certain cancers. Hispanic men experienced a rise in liver cancer deaths by 1% annually, while Hispanic women saw an increase in liver cancer (1%), pancreatic cancer (0.2%), and uterine cancer (1.6%) deaths each year. Moreover, Hispanic men aged 25 to 34 faced yearly increases in death rates, particularly for colorectal cancer (2.4%) and testicular cancer (3.2%) from 2003 to 2020.
Healthcare Access Challenges: The study highlights that policies discouraging Latinos from enrolling in public health insurance, coupled with disparities in healthcare treatment, have adversely affected their physical and mental well-being, as reported by the CDC. Additionally, over half of Hispanic Americans cite occupation-related health risks as a significant driver of disparities. Poor access to quality medical care (mentioned by approximately half of the respondents) and challenges related to language and cultural differences in navigating the healthcare system (cited by about 44%) further exacerbate the issue. Uninsured rates among Hispanics are higher compared to other racial and ethnic groups, leading to lower rates of cancer screenings and preventative care.
Underrepresentation and Survival Rates: The study also emphasizes the underrepresentation of Hispanic Americans in cancer clinical trials, with their participation accounting for only 10% while constituting nearly 20% of the U.S. population. This lack of representation hinders researchers’ ability to tailor treatments for this population, contributing to higher death rates. Furthermore, regardless of socioeconomic status, Hispanic patients are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer, leading to poorer survival rates.
Call for Targeted Approach: Senior study author Sophia Kamran stresses the need to address these disparities with tailored research, education, and treatments for the Hispanic population. She emphasizes that the Hispanic population cannot be treated as a monolithic group, and efforts must be made to understand and target their specific needs to provide the best possible care.
The rising death rates from certain cancers among Hispanic men and women highlight the urgent need to address healthcare access and treatment disparities. With cancer becoming this population’s leading cause of death, targeted efforts, including increased access to quality care, improved health insurance enrollment, and increased representation in clinical trials, are crucial. By recognizing and addressing the unique challenges the Hispanic population faces, healthcare providers, researchers, and policymakers can work together to ensure equitable outcomes and reduce cancer mortality rates for all.