SA: ‘Hawaiians Suffer Cancer More Than Other Isle Groups’

By Kristen Consillio
Star-Advertiser, February 4, 2017

Cancer is killing Native Hawaiians more than it is any other ethnic group in Hawaii, a new report shows.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the state, with the highest mortality in both Hawaiian men and women, according to the latest report by the University of Hawaii Cancer Center’s Hawaii Tumor Registry.

The disease is being diagnosed later in Hawaiians, when it is at an advanced stage and harder to cure, said Dr. Randall Holcombe, director of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. The group also may be using tobacco at a higher rate and have other genetic factors that make them more susceptible to the disease, he said.

“Many cancers are due to environmental exposures, but others may be due, at least in part, to genetic factors,” he said. “What is probably most important is the gene-environment interaction. Identification of specific ethnic and racial groups that have higher incidences of cancer due to genetic factors allows for the development of targeted cancer prevention interventions for these groups. We want to make sure less people die from this disease.” 

Other ethnic groups with the highest cancer mortality rates among men were Caucasian, Japanese, Filipino and Chinese. The highest among women were Caucasian, Filipino, Japanese and Chinese.

State officials are grappling with how to improve health disparities, particularly among Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders, a hot topic at this year’s Legislature.

Gov. David Ige has pledged $10 million — $5 million each in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 — in his administration budget for the UH Cancer Center, following former President Barack Obama’s $1.8 billion legislation for new investments into cancer research.

Sen. Roz Baker (D, South Maui-West Maui) earlier committed to working with lawmakers to increase the e-cigarette tax; allow pharmacists to administer vaccines for the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cancer; and support a statewide cancer screening project.

Meanwhile a Native Hawaiian Health Task Force is lobbying for a minimum- wage hike and public dental benefits for low-income residents in an attempt to reduce health disparities among Native Hawaiians.

“Among Native Hawaiians we see higher prevalence of many risk factors commonly associated with cancer, including smoking, alcohol use and obesity,” said Lola Irvin, administrator of the state Department of Health’s Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division. “In addition, we see lower rates of screening for certain cancers. This, in turn, suggests that Native Hawaiians are more likely to die, and more likely to die at a younger age from cancer than other race-ethnicities.”

DOH officials say cancer deaths are largely preventable.

“It is important to stop and never start using tobacco, maintain a healthy weight and cut down on alcohol; and the other factor is to get regular screenings for cancer, especially for breast, colorectal and cervical cancer,” Irvin said.

Cancer, the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease, claims the lives of more than 2,200 Hawaii residents each year. In 2016 there were more than 58,000 people living with the disease in the islands, which is No. 1 in the nation for mortality from stomach and thyroid cancer, according to the report, which used data collected from 2009 to 2013. Prostate cancer is the most common in men and breast cancer the most common in women.

Despite significant problems with certain types of cancers, the overall death rate in Hawaii from the disease has decreased steadily — 23 percent for men, 18 percent for women — over the past three decades.

“It is critical that we maintain and evaluate Hawaii’s cancer data so we can continue to address the ethnic and racial disparities here in our communities,” Dr. Brenda Hernandez, principal investigator of the Hawaii Tumor Registry, said in a news release.

Read the full article on the Star-Advertiser site.

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