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Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer.
Latinos, even while they smoke fewer cigarettes and experience lower rates of lung cancer than their White peers, still suffer poor outcomes, too.
This is due to issues with access to treatment, and other significant factors, according to a recent study published in JCO Global Oncology.
“Hispanics tend to experience greater health disparities as a result of structural, sociodemographic, psychosocial, and cultural factors … one-third of US Hispanics had no health insurance and reported not having a consistent health care provider,” the researchers state. “In addition, there is an underrepresentation of Hispanics in lung cancer studies, resulting in a need to research and validate the findings seen in NHWs.”
What Is Lung Cancer?
This form of illness impacts many, due to the rampant use of smokable tobacco products such as cigarettes.
It can present in different ways. Lung cancer symptoms may include:
- A new cough that doesn’t go away
- Coughing up blood, even a small amount
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Losing weight without trying
- Bone pain
“Smoking causes the majority of lung cancers — both in smokers and in people exposed to secondhand smoke,” the Mayo Clinic states. “But lung cancer also occurs in people who never smoked and in those who never had prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke. In these cases, there may be no clear cause of lung cancer.”
This is an issue, even among those who are not regular smokers.
“Light” or “social” smokers will develop as much lung damage in one year as “heavy” smoking does in nine months. The study also noted that each lit cigarette releases 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are considered to be cancer-causing substances.
Smoking causes significant changes in your lungs and airways, and the effects of tobacco remain even years after you ditched cigarettes.
“When you smoke, the cells that produce mucus in your lungs and airways grow in size and number. As a result, the amount of mucus increases and thickens,” according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health Beat. “Your lungs cannot effectively clean out this excess mucus. So, the mucus stays in your airways, clogs them, and makes you cough. This extra mucus is also prone to infection.”
How Common Is Lung Cancer?
This sickness makes up 13% of all cancer diagnoses.
The main culprit is smoking. Smokers are up to 30 times more likely than non-smokers to develop lung cancer.
Lung cancer impacts hundreds of thousands every year — in 2018, an estimated 234,030 cases of lung cancer occurred in the US. Roughly 541,000 people across the country have been diagnosed with the disease at some point. Lung cancer also accounts for 23% of all cancer deaths.
Latinos make up a smaller percentage of those with lung cancer.
“About 5,600 Hispanic men and 5,000 Hispanic women are expected to be diagnosed with cancer of the lung and bronchus (lung) in 2018,” the American Cancer Society states. “Lung cancer incidence rates among Hispanics are about half those of non- Hispanic whites because of traditionally lower cigarette smoking prevalence and because Hispanic smokers are less likely to smoke daily and more likely to smoke fewer cigarettes overall.”
But Latinos also experience poor lung cancer outcomes.
“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic men and the second-leading cause among Hispanic women,” according to the American Cancer Society.
Lung cancer can be caught early with screening practices.
For lung cancer, low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) “has been shown to reduce lung cancer deaths among heavy smokers ages 55 to 74.”
But among all races combined, the prevalence of screening for lung cancer for both 2010 and 2015 was low (less than 5%).
What Is the State of Lung Cancer among Latinos?
About 6,100 Latinos were expected to die of lung cancer—3,500 men and 2,600 women—in 2018.
Many factors impact the status of lung cancer among Latinos.
First, Latinos are a diverse population.
“[A] particular challenge for Latinos is the fact that they are not a race but a diverse group of people with regional and cultural differences that can contribute to disparities,” a JCO Global Oncology study states. “In addition, the lack of adequate resources to fight lung cancer creates more disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with lung cancer in LATAM.”
Second, smoking rates are complex in this population.
Latino adults smoke cigarettes at a lower rate (12.1%) than their white peers (19.4%). But rates are higher among those U.S.-born, compared to foreign-born. Rates are also higher among U.S. Latinos with Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, compared to their Mexican and Central/South American peers.
“Once they’ve started, Latinos are more likely to keep smoking and only half as likely as whites to successfully quit smoking, “ according to a Salud America! report.
Third, Latinos face a high rate of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke is dangerous, especially in the home. Those who live in multifamily housing, such as apartments, often have no choice but to breathe secondhand smoke from neighbors.
In one year, 58 million people were exposed to secondhand smoke in the United States, including 6.2 million Mexican American nonsmokers. 29.9% of Mexican-American children ages 3–11, and 16.9% of Mexican-American youth were exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the CDC.
Fourth, tobacco companies target Latinos in their smoking products and ads.
“Tobacco products are advertised and promoted disproportionately to racial/ethnic minority communities. Tobacco companies seek to appeal to the Hispanic population through branding, financial contributions, and targeted advertising,” according to a CDC review of a report by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Fifth, systemic injustice plays a significant role in lung cancer disparities.
“Latinos with lung cancer were 13% less likely to be diagnosed early, 2% less likely to receive surgical treatment, and 39% more likely to not receive any treatment compared to white Americans,” according to the American Lung Association.
What You Can Do to Help
You can help alleviate lung cancer disparities among Latinos.
Quitting smoking is the biggest step.
You can get quitting help from the Quitxt program, developed by Salud America! Director Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez with the support of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Quitxt is a bilingual service for smartphones that sends messages via text or Facebook Messenger to help coach and encourage people on the journey toward smoking cessation.
“Most lung cancers could be prevented by increasing cessation among adult smokers and decreasing smoking initiation among adolescents,” the American Cancer Society states. “After 10 years of cessation, the risk of lung cancer in former smokers is about half the risk in continuing smokers.”
You can also help raise awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke and the need for smoke-free multifamily housing with Salud America!’s Mil Gracias campaign.
At the campaign website, you can take three big actions:
- Email a “thank you” message to a smoker for not smoking indoors to keep our families healthy.
- Sign a letter to acknowledge the harms of secondhand smoke exposure.
- Share the benefits of reducing secondhand smoke in multifamily dwellings.
“By voluntarily not smoking indoors, you deserve our congratulations,” Ramirez said. “You are actively creating a healthier environment for your family, friends, and neighbors. ¡Mil gracias!”