Cancer is the leading cause for Asian Americans


Cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, a new report released on April 9 reveals. The report by the University of California Asian American Pacific Islander Policy Multi-Campus Research Program was unveiled by Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park).
“This is about saving lives, preventing early death and improving the quality of life,” Eng said.

Eng, who once worked in an emergency room at Kaiser Permanente, said the study will provide valuable data on communities that have been overlooked.

“I asked is there a disease or illness that is associated with the Asian Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian community? And the answer was very troubling because we couldn’t find the answer,” Eng said. “I wanted to know how our communities, of which there are 25 different ethnic groups, compared with the mainstream communities, and even how we compare with each other. Because we know we are as different as the food we eat and the languages we speak, but we are seen as similar to the outside world.”

The report presents a varied picture of the state of health for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) which comprise the fastest growing racial population in the state.

Paul Ong, director of the Multi-Campus Research Program, stated “It is impossible to understand the problems of our communities with out acknowledging two things, one is the incredible diversity … and that this is still an immigrant population.

Over 60 percent of the population is immigrants and many of these immigrants have cultural and linguistic barriers to accessing healthcare.”

Ong, who is a professor of public affairs at UCLA, said that diversity among the Asian groups goes beyond language and culture to socioeconomic and educational factors which influence healthcare.

“For example while only 5 percent of Japanese Californians do not have a high school degree, 48 percent of Hmong do not have a high school degree, it’s an enormous difference,” Ong said.

Among the findings: Koreans have the highest rates of uninsured (33 percent) of any racial/ethnic group in the state, far higher than the average of 15 percent; while Japanese nonelderly adults have the lowest uninsured rates at 4 percent.

Native Hawaiians have the highest rate of stomach and uterine cancer, while liver cancer rates are higher in the Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese populations.
Japanese have highest incidence rates for colorectal cancer (57.5 per 100,000), breast cancer (105.5 per 100,000) and uterine cancer (16.7 per 100,000).
Asian American women have nearly double the non-compliance rate for cervical cancer screening guidelines.

Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of diabetes among other racial/ethnic groups.

In the area of mental health, Vietnamese and Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders experience frequent mental distress at rates higher than other Asian groups; however Korean, Filipino and Japanese also have high rates of mental distress.

Samoan children have the highest percentage of children (54 percent) who are overweight.

“By far one of the most critical elements is access to healthcare. The lack of health insurance is a huge risk factor in such diseases as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cervical, breast and colorectal cancer,” said Dr. Winston Tseng, a researcher at UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Eng said he hopes that the report will give physicians and researchers more data to study and cure diseases plaguing the Asian communities, as well as bring more funding for health research.

“Some shocking statistics, if we look at the data only 0.2 percent of federal health regulated grants from 1986 to 2000 apply to this community. In terms of nonprofit grants, only .4 percent counts for research in 2004,” said Eng.

Other participants in the press conference included Lawrence Lue, chief executive officer of Chinatown Service Center; Dr. Jack Chou, Kaiser Permanente; Kazue Shibata, founder of Asian Pacific Health Care Venture, Inc.; Wendy Wang, Asian Pacific Family Center; and Jay Aromin, Asian and Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance.

Shibata whose organization in East Hollywood offers primary healthcare services and health education, said she has seen more demand for services as the economy has worsened. She said her hope is that the study will bring more attention and federal funding to health problems facing Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

“California has a huge impact on the national level. Studies like this are going to add to the issue of political leverage to take to Washington D.C.,” Shibata said.
For Japanese Americans, she said that despite their longevity in the United States, there are still cultural factors which impact their health.

“What bugs me a little bit about what other people say about Japanese Americans is that well, Japanese Americans are the most assimilated, have higher incomes, things like that, but if you look at Japanese Americans they share similar health problems of mainstream America but have cultural aspects that need to be addressed,” Shibata said. “Drug usage is very similar to mainstream, heart disease and some cancers. We have to look at that and not dismiss Japanese Americans as Asians that achieve.”

Copies of “The State of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) Health in California” are available on Assemblymember Eng’s Web site at

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