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Cancer Incidence Rates Among Minorities Expected to Increase

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New research by Ben Smith, M.D., adjunct assistant professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Radiation Oncology, has proven true Yogi Berra's assertion that, "The future ain't what it used to be!"

Taking into account who's growing old in the United States and how many of us will be old by 2030, Smith projects a 45% increase in cancer diagnosis in general and a 99% increase in cancer incidence among minorities (compared with a 31% increase for non-minorities).

It's very important to note that the researchers aren't saying that anyone's risk for cancer will increase. In fact, their estimates hold the risk to be exactly the same as it is today. Rather, what they're saying is that the number of cancer cases will increase simply because the U.S. population is aging (and older people are more likely to get cancer), and because the proportion of minorities in the U.S. is increasing (so they will make up a bigger percent of the cancer cases in 2030 than they do now).

Among minority groups, expected increases in cancer incidence are:

• 64% for African-Americans
• 76% for American Indian/Alaska natives
• 132% for Asian/Pacific Islanders
• 142% for Hispanics

Currently, although minorities often have higher risk for some cancers, the actual number of minorities who have cancer is low because minorities as a group are younger than the white population and younger people are less likely to get cancer. However, the large group of middle-aged minorities today will make up the group of "old" people in the year 2030. At that time, minority populations will experience the double burden of higher cancer risk and older age. The result will look like an epidemic of cancer in this population. 

Why is this information important for researchers like me and dedicated, caring folks like you? Having a glimpse of the future means that we have time to put into place actions today that can significantly impact the rate of cancer, as well as deaths from cancer, for specific population groups. For example, because minorities are more affected by cancers of infectious origins such as liver cancer and cervical cancer, by implementing effective prevention, education and screening strategies today, we may be able to limit the cancer burden in this group in 2030.

Smith suggests vaccination programs for hepatitis B and human papilloma virus, chemoprevention with tamoxifen and raloxifene, social interventions such as tobacco and alcohol cessation that work for minority groups, and removing pre-cancerous polyps in the colon.

Finally, increasing minorities' participation in cancer clinical trials today will reap even more benefits for care in the future. It will help us to better understand the impact of race on how tissues respond to cancer treatment, the biology of cancer in different groups and effectiveness of cancer therapy for these groups.

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