Exploring the Severe Burden of Stomach Cancer among Latinos


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Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, disproportionately impacts Latinos.

In fact, U.S. Latino men and women are twice as likely as their White peers to develop invasive gastric cancer, according to a 2021 report.

But little is known about regional differences.

That is why Dr. Dorothy Long Parma of UT Health San Antonio and her colleagues conducted a study to analyze gastric cancer rates for Latinos in South Texas, Texas, and the United States.

“We found that overall stomach cancer incidence rates in Texas and South Texas were higher in Latinos than in non-Latino Whites, despite lower frequencies in the state and South Texas region compared to the United States,” said Long Parma, assistant professor/research at the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) in the Department of Population Health Sciences at UT Health San Antonio.

Let’s explore the study findings, reasons behind the rates, and what to do about it.

What Did the New Study Discover about Stomach Cancer and Latinos?

UT Health San Antonio researchers aimed to explore regional variations in stomach cancer among Latinos.

Long Parma teamed with Dr. Susanne Schmidt, assistant professor/research, Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of IHPR and the Salud America! program, and Edgar Muñoz, IHPR statistician.

They used cancer registry data to compare incidence, stage at diagnosis, and risk factors for gastric adenocarcinoma—which accounts for 90% of all gastric cancers—in Latinos and non-Latinos in the U.S., Texas, and South Texas from 2004 to 2016.

young man having a stomachache gastric cancerIn their study in Cancer Medicine, the researchers identified 117,400 gastric cancer cases in U.S., with 20,418 in Texas and 4,192 in South Texas.

Latinos had higher rates than non-Latino Whites in all three regions.

Also, younger patients and those with overlapping or not otherwise specified lesions had higher odds of late-stage gastric adenocarcinoma, Schmidt said.

This is important because U.S. Latinos are diagnosed at more advanced stages of gastric cancer than other racial/ethnic groups. When found very early, there is a better chance of recovery. At later stages, gastric cancer can be treated but rarely can be cured, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“When we stratified our models by geographic location, there were no differences in late-stage disease between non-Hispanics and Latinos,” Schmidt told MedpageToday. “However, when we stratified our models by anatomic site, we saw that Latinos with [cardia gastric adenocarcinoma, in a region of the stomach right next to the esophagus] were 13% more likely to have late-stage [gastric adenocarcinoma] than non-Hispanic Whites.”

Why Is Stomach Cancer such a Big Health Threat to Latinos?

Risk factors for gastric cancer include:

  • Eating a diet high in salted, smoked foods and low in fruits and vegetables.
  • Eating foods that have not been prepared or stored properly.
  • Being older or male.
  • Smoking cigarettes.
  • Having a mother, father, sister, or brother who has had stomach cancer.

Also, Latinos are disproportionately vulnerable to cancer because of structural and systemic policies that curb their access to healthcare, income, housing, transportation, food, and more.

The UT Health San Antonio researchers used the social deprivation index to measure these kinds of factors.

“Among [stomach cancer] patients who lived in Texas, not counting South Texas, higher odds of late-stage [gastric adenocarcinoma] were associated with medium and high social deprivation levels, meaning that patients living in counties with more social deprivation were more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease,” Schmidt said.

What Can We Do to Address Stomach Cancer among Latinos?

Long Parma hopes the new UT Health San Antonio study findings can guide population‐specific, culturally responsive intervention and prevention measures.

She also has recommendations for healthcare providers.

“Clinically, providers need to be made aware of the higher incidence of late-stage cardia [gastric adenocarcinoma] in Latinos, and the equally high incidence in Latino women, so that guidelines for diagnosis and provider perceptions may be adjusted. Latino ethnicity should also be considered a risk factor when deciding whether to screen for gastric cancer” Long Parma told MedpageToday.

Long Parma also wants to improve screening for gastric cancer.

There is no formal screening guideline or standard for gastric cancer, she said.

“We have colonoscopies for colon cancer, pap smears and mammograms for breast and cervical. There’s nothing for gastric cancer. People just go by symptoms,” Long Parma said.

Also, there is no screening program for H. pylori, a stomach bacterium that is a strong risk factor for stomach cancer, because the U.S. is a “low-risk area” for H. pylori.

“The problem is there are populations within the U.S. that are high risk, and so they’re the people that tend to get gastric cancer and H. pylori is the main risk factor for it, even though it takes years to develop. I’m thinking we need a little bit more of a structured approach to identifying it and treating it and making sure it stays eradicated, to try to make a dent in the gastric cancer prevalence, which is higher in Latinos and in South Texas,” Long Parma said.

What Can You Do to Help Researchers Address Stomach Cancer (and Other Cancers)?

Join a clinical trial!

Clinical trials are studies to find more effective treatments. This can help current cancer patients and achieve a better understand of cancer to help future survivors.

“Latinos in clinical trials are not only helping themselves, but they’re also building a future with better treatments that can help their families in the future,” said Ramirez, who is creating new ways to encourage Latinos to volunteer for clinical trials thanks to a grant from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.

Alma Lopez-breast-cancer-clinical-trial
Alma Lopez

Take it from Alma Lopez.

Lopez believes participating in a clinical trial at UT Health San Antonio helped her get better treatment.

“Clinical trials are great for finding new treatments that help people,” Lopez said. “It gives opportunity to better medication for all populations.”

In San Antonio, volunteer for:

  • The AHEAD Trial. For people ages 55-80. This trial aims to protect against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The REACH Trial. For people ages 55-89 with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. This trial is evaluating a treatment to slow the disease effects.
  • Cryotherapy for Breast Cancer. This trial at the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio involves cryotherapy, which uses extreme cold to freeze and kill cancer cells and control pain.
  • Early Breast Cancer Study. This trial at the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio is for women ages 18-100, to protect women against severe cases of breast cancer.

Find a cancer clinical trial at the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio.

Find an Alzheimer’s clinical trial at the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.

You can also use the National Cancer Institute’s online search tool to find a cancer clinical trial in your area!

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