By Steven Reinberg
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States overall, but a new report finds that cancer remains the number one killer of U.S. Hispanics.
Hispanics now make up over 17 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In a new report, the American Cancer Society predicts that nearly 126,000 new cancers will be diagnosed among Hispanics this year and an estimated 38,000 will die from the disease.
Although overall cancer rates are 20 percent lower among Hispanics compared with whites and cancer death rates are 30 percent lower, cancer is still the biggest killer among Hispanics, said cancer society epidemiologist Kim Miller, one of the authors of the report.
"The good news is that the rates for the four most common cancers -- prostate, breast, lung and colon -- are lower in Hispanics than in whites," she said.
In addition, cancer rates among Hispanics are dropping 2.4 percent per year in men and 0.5 percent per year in women, which mirrors trends among whites, Miller said.
The report was published Sept. 16 in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
According to the report, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic men. This year, liver cancer will surpass colon cancer as the second leading cause of cancer deaths among Hispanic men.
Liver cancer deaths among Hispanic men and women are about double those among white men and women, the researchers found.
Among Hispanic women, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death at 16 percent of all cancer deaths, followed by lung and colon cancers, the findings showed.
Miller said that lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women overall. However, since Hispanic women have traditionally smoked less, lung cancer deaths are 70 percent lower among Hispanic women than among white women. In 2014, 8 percent of Hispanic women smoked cigarettes, compared with 17 percent of white women, she said.
Since 1995, cancer death rates among Hispanic men have been on the decline and have been declining among women since 1996 -- four years later than among whites, the researchers reported.
Miller said that Hispanics have a higher risk of cancers tied to infections -- such as those of the stomach, liver and cervix -- than whites. Stomach and liver cancer rates and deaths among Hispanics are double those of whites, she said.
Miller suggested that Hispanics are vulnerable to inequalities in cancer diagnosis and care. They are less likely than whites to be diagnosed with cancer at an early stage, especially for melanoma skin cancer and breast cancer, she explained.
Some of the disparity results from less access to care, she said.
Less access to high-quality care because of poverty and lack of insurance also worries Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.
"This cancer pattern is what has concerned us for a while, and it is another reason why we have been very active in encouraging people to enroll in health insurance," she said.
Delgado said that the problem is particularly acute in Florida and Texas -- two states with large Hispanic populations that have not opted for expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This has left many poor Hispanics without access to health care, she said.
Highlighting a problem isn't enough, Delgado added. More needs to be done to bring health care to the Hispanic community, she said.
However, Delgado explained, the data need to be looked at as part of the larger picture of the health of Hispanics: Hispanics live longer than whites and have less heart disease, regardless of having the factors that increase risk in other communities, such as obesity and diabetes.
Miller suggested that, like all Americans, Hispanics need to make lifestyle changes -- including a healthy diet and not smoking -- to reduce their risk for cancer.
For more on Hispanics and cancer, visit the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.