Cancer screening rates lower for Asians and Hispanics than other groups

Forty-seven percent received colorectal cancer screening in 2010 compared with 60% of whites, data show. Disparities also exist in testing for breast and cervical cancers.

By — Posted Feb. 10, 2012

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A first step to eliminating health care disparities is for physicians to be aware of racial or ethnic gaps in care, said a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official.

For example, they should understand that Asians and Hispanics are less likely to be screened for three common cancer types than other populations, said Marcus Plescia, MD, MPH, director of the CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

Dr. Plescia co-wrote a recent study on cancer screening in the Jan. 27 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The study shows that in 2010, Asian and Hispanic adults had lower rates of screening for breast, cervical and colon cancers than other ethnic and racial groups.

Dr. Plescia encourages physicians to be cognizant of such disparities during office visits.

"When a patient in one of those groups comes in for care, doctors need to put some extra effort into thinking about what screens or tests the patient might benefit from, even if the purpose of the visit" is for something else, he said.

Health disparities in screening for the three cancer types have decreased among blacks, the study found. The rate of breast cancer screening was the same among blacks and whites, 73%. More black women in 2010 reported being tested for cervical cancer during the past three years (85%) than white women (83%).

Each year, about 350,000 people are diagnosed with breast, cervical or colorectal cancers in the U.S., and nearly 100,000 die of the diseases, according to the study.

Researchers examined data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey to assess adults' use of screening tests recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for the three cancer types. The national survey polls a representative sample of Americans on health issues. Participants were asked whether they had been screened with specific tests and when the tests were conducted.

Researchers found that in 2010 the overall screening rate for each of the three cancers fell below Healthy People 2020 targets. Rates were lowest among Asians and Hispanics (link).

Sixty-four percent of Asians reported receiving a mammogram in the past two years. The figure was 70% for Hispanics and 73% for blacks and whites.

Similar disparities were identified in cervical cancer screening. Among Asian women, 75% received a Pap test in the past three years, compared with 79% of Hispanic women, 83% of white women and 85% of black women. Asians and Hispanics also had the lowest rate of testing for colorectal cancer (47%), compared with 60% among whites and 55% among blacks.

Dr. Plescia said it's frustrating that overall screening for the studied cancer types fall short of the Healthy People 2020 targets, which are 81% for breast cancer, 93% for cervical cancer and 71% for colorectal cancer.

"They're not easy [goals to achieve], but they're reasonable," he said.

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