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Asians get cancer when in america

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Breast Cancer in Asian American and Pacific Islander Women: Myths & Realities
by Susan M. Shinagawa
In 1991, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl, the Academy Award for best picture went to Silence of the Lambs, Magic Johnson announced that he had tested positive for the AIDS virus, the United States led Operation Desert Storm against Sadam Hussein, Clarence Thomas was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and America commemorated the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Also in 1991, at age 34, I was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma of the right breast. Presenting with a prominent breast lump that did not show up on a mammogram, I was told by every healthcare professional I saw that I was too young to have breast cancer. It provided me with no comfort when the doctors kept saying "you have nothing to worry about." It was that year­ faced with the fact that my doctors did not take seriously something I knew was happening in my body­ that I became an activist.

We can't prevent breast cancer, and once diagnosed with the disease, women live with the knowledge that recurrence could come at any time. Six years ago, after a modified radical mastectomy and eight cycles of chemotherapy, I was told I was "cured" of my Stage I breast cancer. Early last year I was diagnosed and treated for a rare recurrence in my cerebrospinal fluid. The prognosis could be better, but my work is not done, and I haven't quit the fight.

There was one other thing the doctors told me in 1991 when they said I had "nothing to worry about." They told me "Asian women don't get breast cancer." Well, I am one of the faces of cancer in this vast and tragic tapestry that crosses our nation, and I am here to tell you that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women do get breast cancer!

In fact, unlike all other racial groups, cancer has been the number one cause of death for AAPI women since at least 1995. For the first time, we're seeing downward trends in cancer incidence and mortality for all cancers combined, in all groups, except for AAPI women in whom rates increased for all major cancers.

AAPI women and men do get cancer. Like other minority and medically-underserved populations, AAPI communities in the U.S. and its associated Pacific jurisdictions suffer disproportionately from the burden of this disease.

Breast cancer incidence and mortality rates for AAPI women are consistently reported to be among the lowest for all women in the United States. That is in large part because seventy percent of Asians in the United States are relatively young and come from countries with the world's lowest breast cancer rates. By combining this large group with all Asian American and Pacific Islanders, a myth is created that masks reality. For example, breast cancer incidence for second-, third- and fourth-generation Asian American women is comparable to the rate for white women.

This myth leads to the belief among health care providers, health policy makers, governmental agencies, and the general population that AAPI women are not at risk for breast cancer and are not in need of care and services. The myth that "Asian women don't get cancer" also promotes a false sense of security among AAPI women, which may be one of the reasons they get cancer screening less than other women. A more accurate picture of breast cancer in the many AAPI communities includes these realities, as well:

Women who emigrate to the U. S. from Asia acquire a higher breast cancer risk in a very short time. Breast cancer rates in Asian immigrants are 60% higher than those found in the women's native countries. Immigrant Asian women living in the U.S. for only 10 years have an 80% higher risk for breast cancer than new immigrants. It may be for these women that immigrating to the U.S. is their greatest risk factor for breast cancer.
Native Hawaiian and African American women have the lowest breast cancer survival rates in the U.S.

Nuclear radiation-linked cancers in the U.S. associated Pacific jurisdictions are at epidemic proportions. Breast cancer incidence and mortality rates for Marshalese Islander women is five times greater, and their cervical cancer rate is 75 times greater than for U.S. women.

I share this information and perspective with you because I am on a mission to dispel the myth that AAPI women do not get breast cancer, and because I think it's time our communities do talk about cancer. Breast cancer activists know the importance of having a seat at the table whenever decisions are made that impact our health and lives. For AAPI breast cancer survivors, making our voices heard is critical to our health and well-being.

Susan Shinagawa is a Board Member of The Breast Cancer Fund and a patient advocate. She is the founder of the National Asian American and Pacific Islander Cancer Survivors and Advocacy Network in collaboration with the Asian American and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF). For more information about the Network, call APIAHF at 415/954-9964 or email Susan at

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