Hispanic Cancer Rates Rise After Immigration to the United States

Posted on August 13th, 2009 by

Cancer rates in Hispanics tend to rise after they immigrate to the United States, perhaps by as much as 40%, according to the results of a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.[1]

Hispanic immigrants are a group of immigrants that includes several subsets: Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and “New Latinos.” (In this study, the term “new Latinos” refers to Hispanics who hail from Spain, the Dominican Republic, and South or Central America; however, the term Latino typically refers to Hispanics from all countries in the Americas with Spanish as the official language, except Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba). Research indicates that cancer rates are significantly lower in Hispanics’ countries of origin. First-generation immigrants typically see a rise in cancer rates compared with their compatriots at home.

Researchers from the University of Miami used the Florida cancer registry and the 2000 U.S. Census population data and then compared the information to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in order to evaluate cancer rates among the Hispanic immigrants compared with cancer rates of Hispanics in their home countries. While the total cancer rates in Hispanics were lower than those of Whites and African Americans in the United States, they were still higher than those of their countries of origin. In Hispanic men, the total cancer rate was 11% lower than Whites and 17% lower than African Americans; in Hispanic women, the total cancer rate was 18% below Whites and 2% below African Americans.

Puerto Ricans had the highest cancer rates of the Hispanic subpopulations, while Mexicans had the lowest. Furthermore, the different subpopulations showed different rates among types of cancer:

  • Puerto Rican cancer rates seemed to closely mirror those of Whites, although their rates of lung cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer were lower.
  • New Latinos had the lowest rates of lung cancer and the highest rates of thyroid cancer among all populations analyzed.
  • Compared with Whites, Cubans had higher rates of liver cancer but lower rates of lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Cuban women had the highest rate of colorectal cancer among all women, regardless of ethnicity. Compared with the other Hispanic subpopulations, Cuban men had higher rates of tobacco-related cancers (lung, larynx, bladder, kidney, and pancreas).
  • Mexicans had higher rates of stomach, cervical, and liver cancer than Whites.

Most notably, the cancer rates for Hispanics in Florida was at least 40% higher compared with their counterparts from their home countries. The rate of lung cancer among Mexican and Puerto Ricans was doubled for men and quadrupled for women compared with the rate of their home countries.

The reasons for the elevated cancer rates among these immigrant groups are unclear, but the researchers speculate that it could be related to diet and lifestyle changes. Further study is warranted.


[1] Pinheiro PS, Sherman RL, Trapido EJ, et al. Cancer incidence in first generation U.S. Hispanics: Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and New Latinos. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 2009; 18: 2162-2169.

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