Is It Cancer? Understanding Your Risk for Common Cancers as a Hispanic

Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanic populations in the United States. The National Foundation for Cancer Research reports that Hispanics and Latinos have the highest cancer rates associated with liver, stomach and cervical cancers. If you are of Central American, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican or South American descent, it’s essential to understand why your risk for cancer is different compared to the non-Hispanic population.

The Prevalence of Cancer in the Hispanic Community

According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, Hispanics experience disparities in certain types of cancer compared to the non-Hispanic white population. For example, compared to non-Hispanics, Hispanic individuals are 2.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer and 2.4 times more likely to die from the disease. Hispanic women are also 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. Hispanic men and women are twice as likely to have and die from liver cancer than the non-Hispanic population. 

The Top 3 Cancers Among Hispanics

For more than a century, medical experts have understood that infections play a role in cancer in animals. More recently, infections with certain viruses, bacteria and parasites have been recognized as risk factors for several types of cancer in humans. Worldwide, infections are linked to 15 to 20 percent of cancers. reports that while Hispanics have lower rates in breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancer, the Hispanic population has higher rates in these infection-related cancers, specifically cervical, liver and stomach cancer.

Liver Cancer

The Hispanic community has a higher prevalence of hepatitis B, which can lead to liver cancer. Hepatitis B can be spread through contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids, including semen, vaginal secretions and saliva.

To lower hepatitis B risk, never have unprotected sex with a potentially infected partner. Sharing unsterile needles, syringes or other injection equipment can also spread the virus. Getting a tattoo may also risk infection if the equipment is not correctly sanitized or was previously used on an infected client. The best protection against hepatitis B is to get fully vaccinated. 

Stomach Cancer

Hispanics are more likely to have stomach cancer because of the higher prevalence of infection with the bacterium H. pylori. It can spread via bodily fluids like saliva and can also be transferred from feces to the mouth, which can happen if a food preparer doesn’t thoroughly wash their hands after using the bathroom. Because H. pylori can also spread through contaminated water or food, practice good hygiene when preparing food and know the source of drinking water.

Fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha, escabeche, curtido, pulque and tepache are high-probiotic foods that help fight H. pylori infection.

Cervical Cancer

Hispanic women experience a higher prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which can lead to genital warts or cervical cancer. There are more than 200 types of HPV with about 40 kinds that can infect the genital area, including the vagina, vulva, cervix, anus, rectum, scrotum and penis.

Human papillomavirus is often transmitted through sexual intercourse, but it can quickly spread through skin-to-skin contact and be picked up off surfaces.

Use a condom during sex to lower the risk of infection, particularly if you don’t know your sexual partner’s STD testing history. In addition, disinfecting surfaces in public places and diligently washing hands can help prevent the spread. There is also an HPV vaccine that protects against certain types of HPV.

If you’re Hispanic and would like to understand your cancer risk factors and prevention, or you feel you could have cancer, be sure to schedule a screening with your primary care physician or specialist. You can even schedule a consultation or second opinion appointment with us.

More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.