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Cancer Among Asian Americans

By Mary Tablante

Cancer is the leading cause of death for Asian Americans. The most common types of cancer for Asian Americans are liver cancer, stomach cancer and cervical cancer. Breast cancer has also been increasing among Asian Americans. The following is a round up of the most common types of cancer among Asian Americans.


Approximately 1 in 12 Asian Americans live with a chronic hepatitis B infection, but too few Asian Americans know that chronic hepatitis B infection is a risk factor for liver cancer.

Hepatitis B is most commonly transmitted from mother to child, which is why vaccination of infants is most important, Chen said. Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse with someone who is infected.

Jeffrey Caballero, the executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, gives the opening remarks for the Know Hepatitis B Campaign Launch on June 12.

On June 12, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) launched a campaign to educate the Asian American and Pacific Islander community on the risks of hepatitis B infection. The Know Hepatitis B campaign is the first national multilingual, multi-year communications campaign to increase hepatitis B testing among AAPIs. The campaign aims to improve awareness, advocate for improved testing, improve care and treatment and improve health outcomes for AAPIs. Congressman Mike Honda and the executive director for the White House Initiative on AAPIs, Kiran Ahuja, also attended and spoke at the event in support of the cause.

“Hepatitis B affects ones livelihood and mental health … many individuals who have hepatitis B perceive the effects of stigma from the disease, which affects their contributions and impact in one’s family and community,” Ahuja said.

Ahuja added that not addressing hepatitis B could have grave societal and cost implications and further isolate the AAPI community. She also stressed the importance of implementing culturally appropriate programs and outreach so that more AAPIs will be aware of the disease and get screened.

Phu Dinh Cao, executive director of Viet Nam Medical Assistance Program, a nonprofit, works directly with community members to hold screenings, public events and educational receptions. After the free screenings, the organization passes on the results of the blood tests and if any are found positive, the organization connects patients to care or treatment.

Jeffrey Caballero, Nadine Gracia, Cynthia Jorgensen and Joan Block pose near the end of the Know Hepatitis B United Launch. Jorgensen was honored with a 2013 Hep B United Champion award.

Cao said it is important to use the native language, especially among older generations. He and others in the program visit different college campuses to promote the cause with Vietnamese student associations and organizations.

“The first thing is we have to use Vietnamese, and then we have a guidelines from CDC and … we invite them to go to talks, we explain it to them and have them feel related to what we’re talking about,” he said. “We have to get them understand how crucial is to get testing.”

One of the obstacles some AAPIs, including Vietnamese, face is that they either do not have health insurance or they do not have access to primary care doctors, said Cao.

“They want to come but they don’t have the means to come,” he said. “We have to ask support from local agencies and also private donors to help them out with that.”

Jane Pan, executive director of the nonprofit Hepatitis B Initiative in D.C., said her organization holds hepatitis B screenings and vaccinations and care for those who test positive.

“Hepatitis b affects our community and it’s a silent killer,” she said. “We come from countries where there’s a high prevalence rate for hepatitis and so that’s why it’s so important. That’s why it’s affected our population.”

The National Cancer Institute advises everyone to get a blood test from your health care provider to see if you are infected. If your blood test comes back positive, your health care provider will conduct further tests and recommend treatment.

Treatment for those with hepatitis B is available to slow liver damage. The hepatitis B infection is also preventable with a vaccine that involves three shots given over six months, said Dr. Moon Chen, the principal investigator at the National Center for Reducing Asian American Cancer Health Disparities.


Breast cancer has been rapidly increasing among Chinese and Korean women in the United States. From 1988 to 2004, Asian American women experienced a more rapid increase in breast cancer incidence compared to non-Hispanic Whites, especially among U.S.-born Asian American women younger than 45 years old. Furthermore, Chinese and Filipina women born in the United States had cancer rates that were approximately 80% and 30% higher than their foreign-born counterparts. In 2010, researchers from Maryland Asian American Health Studies interviewed four Chinese breast cancer patients/survivors and five Korean breast cancer patients/survivors in the D.C. area to determine the best possible ways to help the women cope with problems and stress, depression and anxiety.

The study participants, who were between 40 and 69 years old, cited loneliness and lack of cultural resources, no support groups or counseling programs as problems they dealt with while battling breast cancer.

Only a few participants said they openly discussed their feelings or emotions with family members because they did not want to burden others. Also, because of their experience with breast cancer, the relationship with their spouse was affected.

Some interviewees hid the fact they had cancer in fear that they would receive more stress from others responding negatively.

A 46-year-old Korean woman who participated in the study told researchers, “When I talked with Koreans, they were very negative about my situation. What they asked first was how much longer I could live.”

The researchers determined that a linguistically and culturally appropriate intervention should provide information, teach skills to cope with problems and manage stress and increase self-efficacy in the context of cultural background. The project stressed the need to implement will also create a support group with women from the same ethnic groups.


The American Cancer Society provides educational materials in several Asian languages, which can be viewed at: cancer.org/asianlanguagematerials/index. More educational materials can be found through the National Center for Reducing Asian American Cancer Health Disparities at: aancart.org/apicem-web-tool.

Asian Fortune is an English language newspaper for Asian American professionals in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Visit fb.com/asianfortune to stay up to date with our news and what’s going on in the Asian American community.