Numerous studies have documented racial differences in deaths from cancer among non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, but little has been known about survival outcomes for Asian Americans who have been diagnosed with cancer, until now. A new study from Quoc-Dien Trinh, MD and colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) examined cancer patients in eight different Asian American subgroups and found their cancer-specific mortality (CSM) was substantially lower than that of non-Hispanic white patients. The findings are published in the March 20 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (JNCI).
"What we have found is that Asian Americans are an incredibly diverse group that cannot be indiscriminately combined together," said Trinh, associate surgeon for the Division of Urology at BWH, faculty at the Center for Surgery and Public Health (CSPH) and lead author of the study. "With Asian Americans, there is important variation in socioeconomic status, cultural beliefs, and length of time since immigrating to the United States that researchers must take into account."
Although Asian Americans represent only 5 percent of the entire United States population, they are the most rapidly growing racial group in the country. This is one of the first studies not just to focus on the cancer-specific survival of Asian Americans, but also to break down that population into eight specific subgroups (Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, South-East Asian, Vietnamese and others) for further analysis.
Trinh and his colleagues used Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) data to look at more than 2.5 million Asian American patients who were diagnosed with lung, breast, prostate or colorectal cancer (the three leading causes of cancer-related mortality within each gender) between 1991 and 2007.
The team found significant differences in cancer outcomes among the Asian subgroups. Specifically, the researchers report that the Japanese subgroup had substantially better survival rates than non-Hispanic whites (especially with regard to prostate, breast and colorectal cancers), as did those of Filipino and South Asian descent (for prostate and lung cancers, and lung and colorectal cancers, respectively), while the Hawaiian and Korean subgroups did not. In Chinese and Vietnamese patients, only those with lung cancer had better CSM rates relative to non-Hispanic whites. Overall, most Asian subgroups were less likely to die from cancer than non-Hispanic white patients.
"We found that CSM is statistically significantly lower for Asian Americans than for non-Hispanic whites overall, despite similarities in odds of receiving definitive therapy, and even after adjusting for socio-demographic factors, cancer stage and treatment," said Trinh. "We've effectively ruled out a number of variables, suggesting instead that underlying genetic or biological differences and/or complex cultural influences may impact survival in Asian American cancer patients."
This study opens the door for future research to better understand why Asian Americans have better CSM than non-Hispanic whites, and to determine whether and to what extent genetic and/or cultural factors are involved.
This work is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from the Vattikuti Urology Institute and the Professor Walter Morris-Hale Distinguished Chair in Urologic Oncology at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 4.2 million annual patient visits and nearly 46,000 inpatient stays, is the largest birthing center in Massachusetts and employs nearly 16,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Brigham Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, more than 1,000 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $600 million in funding. For the last 25 years, BWH ranked second in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among independent hospitals. BWH continually pushes the boundaries of medicine, including building on its legacy in transplantation by performing a partial face transplant in 2009 and the nation's first full face transplant in 2011. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative as well as the TIMI Study Group, one of the premier cardiovascular clinical trials groups. For more information, resources and to follow us on social media, please visit BWH's online newsroom.